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Bill that would increase pensions for injured police officers advances to Indiana House

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Santos Cortez and Jason Fishburn at the Statehouse on Feb. 21, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A tough cop who gave up his career and the use of his legs to serve and protect the people of Indianapolis choked back emotion and let tears spill out of his eyes as he testified before an Indiana House committee on the need to better support police officers critically hurt in the line of duty.

“I sustained massive injuries that day which has left me in a wheelchair,” IMPD Patrolman Santos Cortez told members of the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee. “It’s changed my life because ever since that day I can no longer do the job that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

That day was June 10, 2012, a Sunday evening actually, when Cortez set out on duty to track down a drunk driver who was causing havoc along West Washington Street.

The inebriated motorist found Cortez first, broadsiding the five-year veteran’s patrol car, pushing the vehicle into the path of an oncoming pick up truck carrying a man and a child.

The force of the crash destroyed Cortez’s seat belt; he was ejected through the passenger side window of the IMPD car and onto the pavement.

Cortez spent most of the next week at Wishard Memorial Hospital in a coma. Upon recovery he was determined paralyzed from the chest down and would undergo 29 surgeries and months in various hospitals recovering only to have doctors warn him that one more simple infection could end his life.

Frankly, there’s virtually no tissue left in his back to become infected or cut away, leaving him mostly homebound in fear of picking up a stray cold or flu bug at work.

Cortez was deemed 71% disabled by the State Pension Board and has fought for 100% of a rookie patrolman’s base salary to provide for himself and his family of five children in the years he has left.

Jason Fishburn was shot in the head and chest by a murder suspect in 2008.

Partially paralyzed and slow to speak, Fishburn told committee members in a halting address that after he settled for less than full compensation in order to retire from IMPD, he felt forgotten by the city he swore to protect and serve.

“It seems like once an officer survives, everyone just thinks they are OK and they are forgotten,” said Fishburn. “But these officers and their families are the ones that need the most support. They are the ones left to deal with these challenges the rest of their lives.”

Fishburn told the committee members he was deemed just 70% disabled.

House Bill 1617 sponsored by Rep. Mike Speedy would retroactively boost the pensions of a handful of injured officers going back to July 1, 2008, days before Fishburn’s shooting, and would be well within the pension’s ability to fund, according to the Indianapolis Republican.

As the committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full House, Rep. Robert Morris explored the possibility to lend higher education assistance to children of officers and firefighters catastrophically injured in the line of duty.