An injured detective claims Erie County Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan wants to prevent him from receiving disability benefits because he is Puerto Rican.
Louis P. Gonzalez, 50, a 27-year police veteran who has received several commendations, claims Gallivan is punishing him for suffering an on-duty back injury. He claims the sheriff has treated him more harshly than a number of white deputies who suffered on-duty injuries in recent years.
Gonzalez recently filed a discrimination complaint against the sheriff with the state Division of Human Rights. The Hispanic Law Enforcement Officers Association of Western New York supports Gonzalez.
"The sheriff has treated me like a criminal ever since I got hurt," Gonzalez said in an interview. "A few weeks after the injury, (deputies) came to my house to take away my gun, my radio, my bulletproof vest and my procedures manual. . . . My children were in tears. I had to tell them, 'Dad's not a crooked cop, he's not being suspended.' I've never heard of any (injured) deputy being treated like this in all my years on the department."
Sheriff's Department officials deny any discrimination, saying they only want to save taxpayers some money by persuading Gonzalez and other injured deputies to perform light duty.
"This is a matter of fiscal responsibility. Every case is handled the same way, and there's no discrimination against any individual," said Brian D. Doyle, the department's chief of administrative services.
Currently, five deputies are injured and receiving the same full disabilities as Gonzalez, Doyle said. One injured deputy is working light duty.
In legal papers, Gonzalez said he has been off duty with severe back injuries since Oct. 16, 2003, when he was hurt while arresting a felony probation violator. So far, he has received full disability pay, but the department wants him to return to work, in at least a light-duty capacity.
"We are monitoring this situation very closely," said Miguel Rivera, president of the Hispanic officers group. "Lou was one of the first Hispanic officers hired in the Buffalo area. He opened a lot of pathways for Hispanic officers who are on the job now.
"It's a shame that the old boys' network in the Sheriff's Department is acting this way toward a man with his seniority and reputation."
Doyle disagreed, saying Gallivan has had excellent relations with Hispanics and other minorities in his department since taking office in 1998.
"Whenever we have an officer who is receiving benefits for a line-of-duty injury, and we receive information that the officer could perform some kind of light duty, we owe it to the county taxpayers to pursue it," Doyle said. "We'd rather have deputies coming in to do some office work, to work in communications or training other deputies than have them staying home, collecting full pay and benefits."
"At any given time, we have one or two deputies working light duty, and most of them eventually recover to the point that they are able to return to full duty," Doyle said.
As a 27-year police veteran, Gonzalez makes about $55,000 a year. A departmental hearing was held on his case in August, and the department is waiting for a decision before taking any action, Doyle said.