Injured officers supporting Indiana bill aimed at improving pensions

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- On the night of June 10, 2012, IMPD Patrolman Santos Cortez drove down West Washington Street looking for a drunk driver.

Unfortunately, the driver found him first.

Nearly five years later, Cortez remains confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down, unable to work as a police officer or pursue any career, because of his ongoing battles against infection after 29 surgeries.

“I can’t walk. My spinal cord is fused all the way from the middle of my back all the way to my pelvis. I’ve got more hardware than most paralyzed people. Everything’s double rodded all the way down to my pelvis,” said Cortez. “If I have any more complications they basically told me that I have five years from that point when I had another complication to live.”

Cortez and disabled former IMPD Patrolman Jason Fishburn will testify before an Indiana House committee Tuesday morning in support of a bill to hike the compensation due to law enforcement officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

“We need something to benefit us financially in some aspect because once the injury’s done, once all the lights turn off and everybody goes back to their regular life and all the benefits are over with, there’s nothing for any injured officers,” said Cortez. “What I’m pushing for is for officers to receive 100% of the pay and benefits for the remainder of their career if they’re catastrophically or critically injured in the line of duty.”

HB 1617 sponsored by Rep. Mike Speedy would pay an officer 100% of a first year police salary for life.

Now injured officers must negotiate their pension. Cortez said he’s been offered 71%.

“Trust me, I would love to go back to work. I’d give anything to go back to work,” said Cortez whose doctors have warned his body would never stand up to the strain of leaving home every day for employment. “I can’t do what most do which is go get part-time jobs or things like that. I just have to be at home.”

Speedy said the state’s pension is fully financed and could withstand enhanced payments to officers disabled in the line of duty since 2008 and moving forward.

Fishburn remains partially paralyzed after being shot in the head by a murder suspect in 2008.

“These guys have suffered a lot, they fought hard, they didn’t die, lets help them out, let’s give them something that they deserve,” said Cortez. “Injured officers are kind of like the forgotten children. Once we’re done, everybody moves on.”

Last year more than 700 IMPD officers were injured, stabbed, shot or beaten while on the job.

Speedy has also introduced a bill to enhance the penalties for offenders who injure and permanently disable public safety officers in the line of duty to add another five to ten years of prison time that could not be suspended at sentencing upon conviction.

The man who ran into Santos Cortez and left him disabled for life served a three year prison sentence and went on to be convicted of another alcohol-related driving offense.

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