How is disabled ex-New York cop fit to work for Broward Sheriff's Office?
Michael MayoMichael MayoContact ReporterSun Sentinel Columnist
Mayo: Disabled or fit? Cop case shows loopholes in system
It's one thing to exploit loopholes in a system. It's another to be so brazen about it.
So put Christopher DePaolis in the running for this year's Chutzpah Award.
DePaolis is a former New York City cop who qualified for an $82,069-a-year disability pension in 2013. He retired from the NYPD after 20 years on the force, at age 41, after he injured his knee chasing a criminal suspect.
He wasn't disabled for long. Last June, DePaolis was hired by the Broward Sheriff's Office. He is now a deputy in Oakland Park with a $52,156 annual salary. And he still gets his tax-free payments from New York.
DePaolis, now 43, also has recovered to the point where he runs long-distance races. Earlier this month the New York Daily News published photos from Facebook showing DePaolis after a half-marathon, along with the cover headline "Knee Jerk."
On its face, the whole thing seems outrageous. How could a disabled cop collect big bucks in one place, then be deemed fit to serve in another?
I sent DePaolis an email and left a voicemail seeking comment, but he didn't respond.
A Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the matter, with Internal Affairs starting "a preliminary inquiry" to determine if further investigation is warranted. New York City pension officials say they are looking into the situation.
DePaolis makes for an easy punching bag, and I certainly wonder about his judgment and ethics.
Here's the thing: It's the system's fault as much as his. He apparently hasn't broken any rules or laws.
For starters, DePaolis was never asked on any of his application and medical forms whether he had ever been deemed disabled. And then he passed all the physicals and fitness exams he needed to get hired.
Sheriff's Office records show he was asked about drug use (none), criminal history (none), education (college dropout) and employment background. But there was no question about whether an injury had ever sidelined him from work, or whether he had ever been declared physically unfit for duty.
Asked his reason for leaving the NYPD on the application he filled out last March, DePaolis wrote, "Retired."
Technically that's true.
Before DePaolis' June hiring, a Sheriff's Office background investigator called the NYPD to verify the application information, including retirement as the reason for leaving. "Per policy, no additional information was provided," the background report said.
I suppose DePaolis can be faulted for sins of omission. He didn't tell the Sheriff's Office about the disability pension or the full circumstances of his departure from the NYPD, according to his forms and a spokeswoman.
Then again, if he wasn't specifically asked, why would he?
Perhaps it's time for the Sheriff's Office and state to fine-tune their forms and procedures to learn more about past injuries and disability claims.
DePaolis also can be faulted for a mindset that seems more take-and-sneer than protect-and-serve. The Daily News reported about a Facebook post in which he boasted that he wanted to milk the system for all he could, written the day after President Barack Obama's re-election in 2012. "Now I'll take whatever I can get [from] this state and not feel one bit bad," DePaolis wrote. "If everyone else is going to get free s--- and not have to work. ... I plan to do the same now."
Is this the kind of cop we want on our streets? DePaolis is still in his one-year probationary period, meaning his continued employment is not assured.
It doesn't seem right that DePaolis is back on the job yet still able to collect his disability pension. New York's rules call for automatic revocation or suspension if disability recipients land government jobs in New York, but not out of state. That's a flaw New York needs to fix.
But New York's loss is South Florida's gain. At the time he got his pension, DePaolis bought a $515,000, 3,800-square-foot, five-bedroom house in Coral Springs. Property records show he pays more than $9,000 in annual taxes on the home.
Guess we'll just have to take the money and run.