A federal jury will begin deliberations today in a case brought by a Baltimore County police detective who suffered a seizure in 1996 and said his bosses tried to remove him from active duty after he testified on behalf of another officer with a similar problem.
William Blake, a member of the department since 1987 who now works in its undercover criminal intelligence unit, has accused the department of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by ordering neurological and fitness-for-duty tests a decade after his on-the-job epileptic seizure.
Blake was cleared to return to work three weeks after the May 1996 episode and suffered no further episodes.
But more than a decade later, the department ordered him to undergo regular examinations.
The demand came after Blake testified during an August 2006 appeals hearing on behalf of another officer, Philip Crumbacker, who was challenging his forced retirement after a seizure. Blake said he was able to return to the job after his medical emergency without problems. Two other officers made similar points.
When informed of their testimony, Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the Baltimore County police chief at the time, ordered that all three officers be evaluated for their fitness to work. The tests included an electroencephalogram, which measures electrical activity in the brain and is commonly referred to as an EEG. According to the lawsuit, Sheridan's order for the EEG came after a doctor had examined Blake at the chief's request, concluded that the detective remained fit for duty, and said that the results of an EEG might be inconclusive.
Sheridan, who now heads the Maryland State Police, testified Monday during the last of five days of testimony in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that in ordering the tests he was trying to find out "whether we have an issue or a problem with that officer."
"My concern was, if they had seizures, could they have others?" Sheridan said. "I thought it was reasonable."
In his lawsuit, Blake cited internal memos obtained through the discovery process from the county's personnel director indicating that the department's treatment of the police officers violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. "There has been no empirical evidence that these individuals are incapable of performing the essential functions of the jobs they have been doing," one of the memos said. Fitness-for-duty tests "that it does not require of other members" of the department was "clearly a violation of both the intent and the actual statutes in the ADA," the memo said.
Sgt. Andrew Vaccaro, who has been Blake's boss on the criminal intelligence team for more than four years, testified Monday that when Blake began to take time off as he confronted the department on the testing issue, the undercover unit suffered.
"We have an unbelievable amount of organized crime in Baltimore County, and to not have him there leaves us severely hampered," Vaccaro said. "He has always been fit for duty in my eyes."
Dr. Allan Krumholz, a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy, told the jury that there was no point in Blake being subjected to an EEG, given the long period of time since his seizure. Such a test would not predict future episodes, the doctor said.
"The seizures were well-controlled for 10 years," Krumholz said. "He had a very small risk of a seizure reoccurring."