Work-Related Stress Leads To Officer’s Suicide

Russell Wilde was a lieutenant for the Cranford, New Jersey Police Department. On September 16, 1999, when Hurricane Floyd struck, Wilde was designated incident commander, and he was put in charge of coordinating the Township’s rescue and recovery efforts. In one 51-hour period, Wilde worked approximately 28 hours. On the day following the 51-hour period, Wilde died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Wilde’s widow, Tracey Wilde, filed an application for workers’ compensation “dependency” benefits. When a workers’ compensation court initially granted the benefits, the Township challenged the decision in the New Jersey Superior Court.

The Court upheld the grant of benefits to Tracey Wilde. The Court found that “other jurisdictions have permitted dependency benefits where the mental disturbance and resultant suicide were caused by a work-related stressor, such as over-work, mental strain, or a traumatic event although the suicide was not preceded by a non-mental physical injury.

“Here, Lieutenant Wilde was a very hard working, conscientious individual who had high expectations of himself. Lieutenant Wilde physically aided in the rescue, along with supervising and bearing the substantial responsibility for the rescue effort while working a significantly overtimed shift. It is reasonable to assume he was exhausted. The Court is persuaded by the expert testimony of a physician that Lieutenant Wilde demonstrated a change in character which evinced a disturbance of the mind. Given Lieutenant Wilde’s well-documented super achiever personality, under the extreme circumstances he faced as incident commander during Hurricane Floyd, Lieutenant Wilde behaved irrationally, believing he did not do enough and committed suicide.

“We are convinced that the compensation judge’s findings reasonably could have been reached on the basis of sufficient credible evidence in the record.”

Wilde v. Township of Cranford, 2009 WL 1025193 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2009).

This article appears in the June 2009 issue