A bill has been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that will give all law enforcement officers in Maryland a 66 2/3 percent disability retirement pension following a line of duty injury, if they’re no longer able to work.
House Bill 971 is sponsored by Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, who represents District 34A and worked with Sandi Easton, of Aberdeen, whose husband, Jason Easton, was shot in the eye Dec. 4, 2015 while responding to a call on Ohio Court in Aberdeen.
Easton, an Aberdeen Police Department officer, was shot in the face with pellets from a shotgun blast. The shooting left him blind in his left eye and unable to go back to work for the Aberdeen Police Department.
Aberdeen didn’t have what Sandi Easton or Lisanti thought was an adequate provision for officers who are injured in the line of duty and can’t return to work, they said.
Lisanti’s bill would provide all law enforcement officers in Maryland the same disability retirement pension that Maryland State Police troopers get – 66 2/3 percent of their salary – following a line of duty injury.
“This is a situation where when something like this happens, then it’s time for the state to say ‘wait a minute, everybody look at your policies to make sure you have a provision,’ because this will happen again,” Lisanti said. “I don’t want another Jason and Sandi Easton to go through this again, when he was doing his job to protect the public.”
Lisanti isn’t pointing fingers at the Aberdeen Police Department. It probably didn’t have any such policy defined “probably because no one ever pre-thought of that type of scenario,” she said.
Each county and municipality receive a tax differential, she said, so if the state is paying a portion of local law enforcement, then the benefits should be equivalent.
“You have two officers injured, representing different jurisdictions, one gets a full pension, the other gets nothing,” Lisanti said. “That certainly could happen – that’s the justification for this bill.”
HB-971 has been assigned to the House Appropriations Committee, where it has had a first reading, according to the General Assembly website. No committee hearing date had been assigned as of Monday morning.
Jason Easton took a medical retirement from Aberdeen Police Department. His retirement and worker’s compensation combined will amount to two-thirds of his salary as a police officer, he said previously.
He has since gone to work for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, where he is a security clerk at the Sheriff’s Office’s Southern Precinct, working the 2:30 to 10:30 p.m. shift.
Since his injury and subsequent struggles over his retirement, Sandi Easton has been working to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to other families.
There is no standard by which officers injured in the line of duty are compensated, Sandi Easton said.
“There are no rules to follow and just no director for when officers get injured,” Easton said. “We know what we have to when an officer dies, but what do we do when they survive? How do we take care of them after an injury?”
This bill won’t affect the Easton family.
“We don’t want to see anyone else go through what we did, what we have seen other officers [go through], what potentially every other officer in this county could go through,” Sandi Easton said.
After her husband’s injury and as he worked out his retirement from Aberdeen, the mother of four began contacting “anybody I could think of,” she said.
“I would tell anybody and everybody who would listen to me that this is a problem,” she said.
Lisanti was the first one to take an interest, Easton said.
“I called her and said ‘I think this is the most disgusting situation I’ve ever heard,’” Lisanti said. “Particularly when it comes to local government. Our first responders live in our community. These are people who take care of us all the time.”
Sandi Easton and her husband are strong in their faith, and believe it will get them through.
“I really feel like, walking through this, God put me in a place to make a change for other people. I’m not going to stop until things do change. People tell me I’m crazy and I can’t do it, that gives me more fuel to keep doing it,” Easton said. “It’s not for [Jason]. It was never supposed to be that. It’s for everybody else who comes this way after.”
The bill is co-sponsored by six other delegates and Lisanti said she thinks it has a “great shot” of passing this year.
“I’ve talked to members of the committee and most were shocked that it wasn’t already a law across Maryland,” she said. “This is about doing the right thing for these folks.”