Alcohol or stress?
Former cop fights for benefits
A former top-ranking Springfield police officer seeking disability benefits has sued the city’s police pension board.
Daryle “Doug” Williamson says he can’t work because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which developed due to exposure to gruesome crime scenes during his 23-year career as a cop, which included a three-year stint as deputy chief in charge of operations from 2007 until 2010.
The police pension board, however, ruled that Williamson is an alcoholic whose troubles with booze, not stress, made him unfit for duty. While two psychiatrists concluded that Williamson suffers from PTSD caused by his job, a third disagreed, and the pension board decided that the officer who left the force in 2011 was faking it.
Williamson comes from a family of police officers. His father was the department’s chief during the 1990s and a brother remains employed with the department. When his father, whose first name is also Daryle, became police chief in 1990, he said that he had hoped that his son wouldn’t join the force because the job is tough.
“There are a lot of disappointments in this job, a lot of frustrations,” the elder Williamson told the State Journal-Register when he was named chief, just two years after his son became an officer.
Twenty-four years later, the younger Williamson’s lawsuit paints a picture of a job that proved unbearable.
Williamson rose rapidly through the ranks. Four years after he was hired as a patrol officer in 1988, he was promoted to detective and was investigating homicides within a few years. Williamson made sergeant in 1999 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2002 before becoming deputy chief in 2007.
In court papers, Williamson says the job began taking its toll in 1995, when became a homicide detective. He could not get gore from killings out of his head, he says, and he was haunted by the memory of a suffocated infant whose feet had been gnawed by mice.
“I would cry at night, experience nightmares and wake up drenched in sweat and feeling exhausted,” Williamson stated in an affidavit. “It was difficult for me to detach from cases I had investigated.”
Williamson turned to alcohol to ease stress and overcome insomnia, according to a psychiatrist’s report attached to the lawsuit. By the late 1990s, he was drinking a bottle of rum per day, according to the psychiatrist, and by the time he sought treatment for alcoholism in 2011, the same year he left the department, he was up to nearly a half-gallon of vodka every 16 to 18 hours.
Williamson told the psychiatrist that he drank after work and that alcohol had never interfered with his job. He never sought help from the city.
“He said he could have asked for help at the police department, but if he did, his career would be over and he would be humiliated,” wrote the psychiatrist, who agreed with another physician that Williamson acquired PTSD as a result of his police work and the condition rendered him unable to work as a cop.
A third psychiatrist concluded that Williamson had PTSD and a panic disorder and was also dependent on alcohol, but those conditions didn’t render him unfit for duty. The doctor wrote in his report that Williamson’s PTSD and other conditions had improved and pointed out that he was considered “a stable and reliable officer” when his conditions were at their worst. He also wrote that Williamson, who was assigned to administrative duties when he left the department, would not be visiting violent crime scenes if he were to return to work.
“(I)t remains unreasonable to conclude that if he was able to perform his duties prior to treatment that he’d not be able to do so now,” the physician wrote.
Williamson was sent home in the spring of 2011 when he failed firearms training, according to the pension board that rejected his disability application last fall. He never returned to work. After using up all his sick time, he resigned on Oct. 1, 2011.
He had been demoted from deputy chief to commander the previous year due to frequently calling in sick, according to the board’s report, and was assigned to the police academy, then the patrol division. When he resigned, he was facing termination for excessive use of sick time, according to the board, which noted that a police officer’s work “inherently creates generalized stress.” Nightmares, panic attacks, stress, flashbacks and other problems Williamson experienced are consistent with alcoholism, the board found. Williamson, instead of avoiding situations that could trigger PTSD-related anxiety, vacationed with the family of Donnah Winger, who was murdered by her husband in a high-profile case investigated by the officer, and regularly drove over Spaulding Dam, even though he said that he was haunted by memories of a body he had found there, the board wrote in its report.
“Daryle Williamson, a seasoned homicide investigator, instigated an elaborate scheme to obtain disability pension plan benefits by claiming PTSD, depression and anxiety disorder, when in fact, he simply had an alcohol problem causing problems at work with absenteeism,” the board wrote in its report. “Being on the verge of employment termination, he chose to create a ploy for a pension disability benefit.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.