An Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge declined to find the City of Annapolis in contempt yesterday for stalling a police officer's request for disability benefits and said the officer must take his petition to the city before appealing to court.
Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth Jr. said Officer William A. Davis, who sought the contempt finding, should plead his case to the city's new Public Safety Disability Retirement Board. It has held one hearing on the request and is tentatively scheduled to consider it at a second hearing Oct. 20.
The 31-year-old officer was injured in 1989 trying to subdue a suspect and again in 1990 when he fell while climbing a chain link fence pursuing another suspect, said his lawyer, Timothy F. Talbot.
The incidents have left him without the use of his right thumb, which means he cannot fire his service weapon and cannot meet state certification requirements for police officers, Mr. Talbot said.
The officer has since been assigned clerical duties, Mr. Talbot said.
Mr. Talbot, arguing for the contempt finding, said city officials had failed to comply with the judge's previous order to schedule a disability hearing within 120 days of May 2. The period expired Aug. 30, he said.
Paul Garvey Goetzke, city attorney, said the local government held a hearing on the request Sept. 16. The hearing was continued, tentatively, to Oct. 20 so that city officials could present their case, he said.
He said the city did not drag its feet on the disability request but had just revamped its disability regulations over the summer. A new five-member disability board had been appointed on Aug. 8.
He said yesterday's hearing could have been avoided if Mr. Talbot had just "picked up the phone" to request a disability board hearing date before asking for the contempt ruling. "I would simply say the city's position was vindicated today," Mr. Goetzke said.
Approval of disability benefits would entitle the eight-year veteran to 66.6 percent of his current $35,172 salary for the rest of his life.
It is the second time that Officer Davis' request will be considered.
A previous disability board ruled Dec. 23, 1992, that the injuries were sustained in the line of duty, but that the officer was not "wholly and permanently disabled," a requirement in effect at the time the case was heard.
Judge Rushworth affirmed that decision March 1, 1993.
But the decision was reversed in January by the Court of Special Appeals, which said the city should apply disability rules in effect at the time of the injuries, and not the stricter rules adopted in August 1991 that were in effect at the time of the first hearing.