Photo: Alex Von Kleydorff / Hearst Connecticut Media
NORWALK — Debbie Roselle, the wife of Norwalk police officer Phil Roselle, who was shot by a fellow officer in a 2017 training accident, has teamed up with a Massachusetts nonprofit to advocate for more comprehensive benefits for officers injured in the line of duty.
Roselle recently sent a letter to State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and other city officials urging a legislative change, similar to one on the books in Massachusetts. The change would allow mayors, first selectmen or town managers to circumvent the state worker’s compensation system and allocate municipal funds to provide lifetime benefits equal to a critically injured first responders’ salary at the time of an accident.
“In our state, permanently injured police officers are required to deal with and be subjected to the bureaucracy that I refer to as Workman’s Compensation. This process is not only tedious but often very stressful,” Roselle wrote to Duff, before asking that he consider drafting and filing legislation that mirrors a proposed law in Massachusetts, championed by the nonprofit Violently Injured Police Officers Organization, that would allow permanently injured police officers a smoother pathway to get full compensation.
Duff said he is researching the legislation that Roselle referred to, but that he suspected that it would require large-scale changes to the current workers compensation process.
“In Connecticut, that task is delegated to Workers Compensation Commission, which is a separate adjudicating body that cannot be influenced by state legislators,” Duff said.
Roselle was shot by a fellow police officer in a September 2017 incident during a training session at the Norwalk Police Department’s gun range.
Since the shooting, Roselle said he’s suffered blood clots, a partial blockage of his heart and permanent nerve damage in his right hand. He is currently on dialysis several days a week for kidney failure and he was told by doctors that he’ll need a kidney replacement.
For more than 30 years, Roselle has had Type 1 diabetes, a pre-existing condition that the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission cited as cause for twice denying him workers’ compensation, before the aid was finally approved in the fall.
But Roselle is still seeking damages from the city, as well as money he feels owed for time out of work. The matter is still being adjudicated by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Detective Mario Oliveira, a retired Somerville, Mass., police officer who was shot six times point blank while serving a warrant in 2010, said he was contacted earlier this month by Debbie Roselle. She asked for Oliveira’s help, in his capacity as the co-founder of VIPO, to bring more attention in Connecticut to injured police officers.
According to Oliveira, in most states, the families of officers killed in action receive robust aid. In Massachusetts, spouses receive one-time federal and state payouts that, combined, total more than $600,000, and are exempt from paying property taxes. The salary of the deceased officer is paid to spouses on a monthly basis for life, tax free, Oliveira said.
The support for those who survive and are permanently injured pales in comparison.
“So what’s the message? You’re worth more to your family dead than you are alive. You get punished for surviving. You get a pay cut, then they cap you on what you earn,” Oliveira said.
According to Norwalk Mayor Harry W. Rilling, as part of Norwalk’s collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police union, the city is required to make up any shortfall in pay for officers injured on the job.
“There is a monetary difference between Officer Roselle’s base salary and what workers’ compensation is paying, and the city has been bridging that gap to ensure he receives 100 percent of his wages,” Rilling said. “The City of Norwalk has been and continues to be committed to protecting those who keep us safe in our community. We will always do everything in our power to ensure our first responders are taken care of and protected.”
But the Roselles, who claim that Phil, 51, is suffering both from kidney failure and post traumatic stress disorder, want more help from the city that he served for more than three decades. Duff, said he more needs to be learned about Roselle’s proposed legislation, and is unsure if it will come up during the upcoming legislative session.
“I’ve known Bob Duff for many years, and he is a strong supporter and advocate for our first responders. I believe he will do what he can at the state level to help those who are putting their lives on the line every day,” Rilling said.
email@example.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586