Former Michigan sheriff wins pension case for on-duty injury

Associated Press

Charlotte – A former county sheriff in southern Michigan could soon receive a pension related to the epilepsy he developed 20 years after he was beaten in the head with a metal flashlight during an arrest.

The Municipal Employees Retirement System board voted Thursday to award a duty-related disability pension to former Eaton County Sheriff Sgt. Jim West, the Lansing State Journal reported. The approval also opens the door for the 49-year-old to receive health care coverage for the seizures he developed two decades after the 1997 beating.

“Honestly, I’m speechless,” West said on Friday. “This is a tremendous relief.”

West has spent two years fighting to get benefits from Eaton County. He said he’s fallen into debt while paying for his own health care.

After West’s seizures developed, he asked Sheriff Tom Reich for light duty because he was 18 months shy of meeting the 25-year service qualification for retirement. He also requested a duty-related disability pension and worker’s compensation.

The county opposed all of his requests, arguing that West didn’t qualify for the specific duty-related pension because his epilepsy wasn’t connected to the beating. The county’s collective bargaining contract requires health care to be provided to those with a disability connected to a job-related injury.

But doctors at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan said the former sheriff’s seizures were the result of a lesion on the brain where he’d been struck.

An individual can develop epilepsy months or years after a traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The county has 60 days to file an appeal of the retirement system board’s decision, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Mausolf.

Eaton County Controller John Fuentes said he doesn’t expect an appeal.

“I will not recommend further pursuit and would expect the board to accept that recommendation,” Fuentes said. “The county’s position was heard and ruled upon.”