Officer who responded at Pulse to retire with pension

An Orlando Police Officer diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will be allowed to retire early after a decision Thursday by the City of Orlando’s Police Pension Board.

The board voted unanimously in favor of Officer Gerry Realin, 37, after a hearing that Realin’s attorney called “unprecedented.”

Realin, who did not attend the hearing at the recommendation of his doctor, was on the Hazmat team that recovered bodies after the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in June 2016.

Steven McKillop, the attorney hired by the City and the Orlando Police Department, argued that not enough time had passed for medical professionals to know whether or not Realin would recover from PTSD.

He also accused Realin, and his wife, Jessica, of using the diagnosis as an excuse to retire early and turning on the department and publicly disparaging the Orlando Police Department.

“Rather than accept the hand that has reached out to him at every turn he has used means to suit his goal of attaining permanent in line of duty benefits,” McKillop told he board. 

Several doctors, selected by the city, said Realin was permanently disabled and unable to return to police work. 
Over the course of the past year, the city has attempted to assign Realin to a desk job, despite doctor’s orders.
The back-and-forth was covered in local and national media.

Jessica Realin’s attempt to convince state lawmakers to change workers compensation laws so that officers would be covered in cases of mental injury also got media attention. 

“They go to the legislature to further their agenda.  Unfortunately for them, the legislature found it fit to keep in place existing laws by which officers have long been protected,” McKillop told the board. 

The city continued to pay Realin up until last month.  Jessica Realin says the treatment from the city has been difficult.  

“I think when you see an officer that has been shot or injured physically [treated one way], and then you have an officer that is injured just as severely with a mental illness injury and having it questioned over and over and not having the same support, you start to wonder where the blue line really is,” she said.

The Realins’ attorney, Geoff Bichler, said it’s highly unusual to see an employer argue before a pension board.

“It was something I have never seen and I’ve done hundreds of pension hearings over my career. I have never, ever seen an employer come after someone as aggressively the city representative did here today,” said Bichler, whose firm Bichler, Oliver, Longo & Fox, represents first responders in workers’ compensation cases. 

“The stigma related to PTSD is only enhanced when you see this kind of a response from an employer, who should be much more sympathetic to the plight of officer Realin and the other officers who are probably also experiencing PTSD,” Bichler added.

A spokeswoman for the City released a statement that reads in part: “Outside counsel representing the City and OPD outlined facts from the record of evidence in this case.  He did not present an opinion or a position.”

Jessica Realin said she hopes that despite the pushback, the outcome of the hearing will send a message to other first responders battling PTSD.

“I want them to know that there is hope  That we’ll stand by them and we’ll continue fighting beside them. That they’re not alone,” Realin said.

Typically an officer receives 80 percent of the average of the last three years of the his pay.

In Realin’s case that works out to approximately $45,000 annually, but because he spent the last year off-the-job and at a pay rate lower than his previous salary, the exact amount of his benefits are unclear.