Officer Not Entitled To Workers’ Comp Benefits When Attacked While Off Duty

Buddy Smallwood is a sergeant with the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Police Department. One evening in January of 2004, while Smallwood was off duty, he stopped at a gas station in Prince Georges County, Maryland to purchase fuel for his personal vehicle. While at the gas station, Smallwood was approached by a man armed with a handgun who instructed him to “give it up.” Smallwood distracted his aggressor by throwing his car keys on the ground, removed his Department-issued pistol, and identified himself as a police officer.

The aggressor then pointed his gun at Smallwood and the two men exchanged gunfire. The would-be robber managed to escape the scene on foot even though he had been hit by two bullets. Smallwood suffered minor injuries in the confrontation as a bullet fragment ricocheted and struck his lower left leg, causing him to experience a painful burning sensation and swelling of his left shin. Smallwood received hospital treatment for his injuries.

Smallwood sought workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries. When the Department denied his request, he challenged the denial in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld the denial of benefits to Smallwood. The Court found that “Smallwood was not engaged in the performance of his Department duties in Maryland when he was accosted by an armed assailant. However, Smallwood contends that he had the authority to take police action in Maryland because he is required by statute to make an arrest ‘for an offense against the laws of the United States committed in his presence,’ and also because he is a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal. This argument is contrary to existing precedent. This Court has held that an on-duty Department detective has no police powers in Maryland. Although Smallwood testified that he was sworn in as a U.S. Marshal in a cross-jurisdictional program with Prince Georges County, Smallwood did not ever receive identification as a U.S. Marshal and the program was never implemented.

“When accosted in Maryland, Smallwood did not suffer injuries as a member of the Metropolitan Police Department while in the performance of duty as a police officer. That is the crux of the case and we thus conclude the ruling denying compensation was not arbitrary.”

Smallwood v. District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, 956 A.2d 705 (D.C. 2008).

This article appears in the December 2008 issue