Ray Robert began working with the Hamilton County, Indiana Sheriff’s Department in 1979 as a merit deputy police officer. Beginning in 2003, Robert suffered from neck/back pain for which he underwent surgery in November 2004. He returned to work eight weeks later. Despite his back problems, Robert was able to perform the duties, trainings, and other essential functions of being a police officer without accommodation.
In 2007, Robert retired from being a merit deputy and began receiving his merit deputy pension. He also began working as a civil deputy process server. When Robert became a civil process server, the Sheriff appointed him as a “special deputy” – a type of civil deputy with law enforcement powers. This permitted Robert to possess and carry a handgun and to have arrest powers.
In 2008, the Sheriff instituted a policy requiring all civil deputy process servers to carry TASERS as part of their non-lethal weaponry. To pass the Department’s TASER training every deputy must receive a single one-to-five-second exposure to the TASER.
Robert produced medical documentation indicating that, due to his back condition, he should not participate in the training. The Sheriff subsequently determined that Robert could not continue in his capacity as a civil deputy process server. The Sheriff offered him an accommodation – a job involving monitoring inmates on a computer screen from inside the control room. The new job would have the same rate of pay, the same hours, and the same benefits as Robert’s old job; however, it would not include a department car, gas, car insurance, or repair payments because the new position would not involve driving.
Robert refused the accommodation because he thought it was tantamount to punishment. Instead, Robert sued the County under the Americans With Disability Act, arguing that the County should have accommodated him by exempting him from the TASER training.
A federal trial court rejected Robert’s claim. The Court noted that “Robert argues, without a single citation to binding precedent, that even if carrying a TASER is essential, the TASER training involving TASER exposure itself is not. In support of this position, Robert argues, first, that because requiring exposure to this weapon is an anomalous training method, it cannot be essential. Additionally, Robert argues by analogy that insofar as officers may be excused from defensive tactics training, so too should they be permitted to have medical exemptions to TASER training. Robert also asserts that because TASER training is imposed inconsistently, it cannot be essential to the job. Finally, Robert vaguely argues that because the training policy was not actually written anywhere, it should not be afforded deference.
“As the Sheriff explains, however, deputies cannot be shot by a firearm or beaten with nightstick without having substantial, long-term damage. TASER exposure, on the other hand, does not result in long-term damage and teaches deputies first-hand the effects of the TASER – a widely misunderstood weapon that might otherwise be abused. The Sheriff does not allow medical exemptions from this training because, unlike defensive tactics training, which can be learned from watching, the TASER is a unique weapon because of its neuro-muscular incapacitating effects. Its unique nature justifies specialized education and training that can be done with little risk of injury during training, Furthermore, there is no evidence that any Hamilton County civil deputy process servers were exempted from TASER training. And even though the policy was unwritten, Robert does not dispute that the expectation of participation was known or that he was otherwise notified of this policy.
“The Sheriff’s opinion, Robert’s job responsibilities, and the potentially dangerous consequences of allowing Robert to carry a TASER without first being exposed to its effects weigh in favor of respecting the Sheriff’s TASER uniformly-enforced policy. The Court therefore finds that the TASER exposure requirement, as determined by Sheriff Carter, is essential to the role of civil deputy process server.”
Robert v. Carter, 2011 WL 1673596 (S.D. Ind. 2011).
This article appears in the August 2011 issue