• September 17, 2014

Officers ask court to halt physical fitness program

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Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 12:00 pm | Updated: 10:47 am, Thu Feb 13, 2014.

By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

Several of Killeen police's most experienced officers sued their employer Monday suggesting the department's physical fitness program violates several laws.

The suit asks for a hearing with a Bell County judge to determine if the job-contingent physical fitness program violated state laws and officers' rights. In the meantime, the suit asks for a judge to issue an immediate injunction to stop the test from happening as scheduled on Oct. 13.

Six Killeen police officers are listed as plaintiffs in the suit against Police Chief Dennis Baldwin, Deputy Chief Larry Longwell, the Killeen Police Department and the city of Killeen.

The plaintiffs include decades of police experience including a 30-year veteran who investigates homicides. Also listed as plaintiffs are a patrol officer, a patrol supervisor, a property crimes detective, an organized crime sergeant and an organized crime detective who works undercover stings and drug busts.

The suit is not an attempt to eliminate the program, which many officers favor, Jason Nassour, the plaintiffs' attorney, said Tuesday evening.

The suit alleges Killeen police usurped Civil Service law, which mandates that an officer can only be declared unfit for duty by a doctor, not by a program or the police chief.

A worst-case scenario places Killeen police in a position to lose around 27 officers. Those officers either failed or declined to participate in April's test.

Officers who fail the test are placed on light-duty, and if they do not pass the test or another test after several tries, they can lose their jobs.

"It's just in the best interest of the citizens that they be physically fit," Councilman Larry Cole said. "If I wanted to stay there I'd get myself in shape."

The lawsuit also contends the physical fitness law causes "unnecessary injuries." The suit cites Karl Ortiz, a 30-year veteran detective, as an example. Ortiz needed knee surgery after he was injured during the Illinois Agility Run portion of an October 2008 fitness test.

"Detective Ortiz, despite having to chase after suspects only a handful of times in his 24-year career as detective, will fail the upcoming Physical Readiness/Fitness test and lose his job," the suit states.

The program requires an officer to take the test within 365 days of an injury or risk being fired, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims several officers will fail because of "pre-existing injuries, age, sex or weight" despite having done their jobs well for years.

When asked about allegations of unfairness, Councilman Juan Rivera erred on the side of caution.

"The coin has two sides, and I've only seen one," Rivera said.

The Killeen City Attorney Kathy Davis, Killeen police spokeswoman Carroll Smith and Ortiz declined to comment Tuesday citing pending litigation.

Herald reporter Hailey Persinger contributed to this report.

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