Terminally ill police officer to keep job - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Terminally ill police officer to keep job

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Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 7:56 pm | Updated: 3:56 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A Mesa police officer diagnosed with a terminal illness will get to remain on the job. Officer Mark Kelly, 30, said he was told by assistant police Chief John Meza last week that city officials told him Kelly can no longer work for the Mesa Police Department because of his medical condition. Kelly was told by city officials on Wednesday he will keep his job.

A Mesa police officer diagnosed with a terminal illness will get to remain on the job.

Officer Mark Kelly, 30, said he was told by assistant police Chief John Meza last week that city officials told him Kelly can no longer work for the Mesa Police Department because of his medical condition. Kelly was told by city officials on Wednesday he will keep his job, said Bryan Soller, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Mesa Lodge No. 9, and Mesa City Manager Chris Brady.

In April, Kelly was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a terminal neurological disorder that destroys the nerve connections between muscles and the brain. He was given two to five years to live.

The Mesa Police Association and the Fraternal Order of Police Mesa Lodge No. 9, the city's two police unions, reached a resolution for Kelly with the city on Wednesday that allows him to remain on the job and keep his benefits, Soller said.

"I am trying to protect my family financially in the event of my death," Kelly said. "The longer I am on the job, the more my public safety retirement pension will be. There needs to be some kind of policy in place when officers come down with certain types of conditions or illnesses."

The two police unions, which usually disagree on issues, worked together for Kelly to remain on the job, Soller said.

"Today's a good day," Soller said of the city's decision to work something out that allows Kelly to remain on the job as long as he's physically capable. "We came up with a plan. It's been in the works since October. We're very pleased with the city's decision to keep him on the job and help his family out."

Kelly, 30, who has been an officer for five years, said he was told last week he no longer could work for the department and that he would have to take an early retirement.

Kelly said he was faced with the thought of having to ride out his remaining 275 hours of vacation and personal comp time before relying on hours of vacation and medical leave donated to him by his colleagues.

After that, Kelly said he would have received a $10,000-a-year pension.

"I may not be able to hold a gun and make a physical arrest, but I can investigate and do other jobs such as take reports," Kelly said.

Meza could not be reached for comment.

Kelly has been performing light duties, such as answering phones, taking reports over the phone and handling walk-ins for the past several months.

Although Kelly types by using only his right hand because his left hand has less mobility, he recently purchased a laptop computer that helps him take reports over the phone easier, he said.

Brady told the Tribune on Wednesday that no one could force Kelly into taking an early retirement and that Kelly would have to apply for it, and the issue would go before a board.

"We're working with Mr. Kelly to keep him on as long as possible," Brady said. "We'd like him to get the maximum amount of time to benefit him and his family and allow him to build time by working from the office or his home."

In recent months, thousands of dollars have been collected through fundraisers and benefits for Kelly's family.

Kelly and his wife have four sons and a fifth child on the way.

Currently, the city has a fit-for-duty policy in which a police officer can be tested at any time to make sure he is fit for duty such as being able to run, shoot a gun and make a physical arrest, duties that a street officer is required to perform, according to Nate Gafvert, grievance chairman for the Mesa Police Association.

However, officers hold various jobs within the department that do not require them to perform physical tasks, Gafvert said.

"We're hoping through all of this that we can work with the city and see if they can reconsider how they do business in regards to these situations," Gafvert said.

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