MIA: CRISIS IN THE RANKS
An Inquirer investigation has found numerous cops who have claimed to be too injured to work, but at the same time launched new businesses, toiled at physically strenuous jobs, and more.
On a late October morning, Alfie Williams, a longtime Philadelphia police officer, answered the front door of his Bucks County home with a navy blue 15th District T-shirt stretched snug across his burly chest.
Since June 10, Williams has been on a weekly list, shared between the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office, of cops who are unavailable for duty, with what he described as a torn rotator cuff from “lifting a 500-pound dead body.” Williams told a reporter that he could no longer raise his left arm more than two inches because of the injury.
Thanks to Pennsylvania’s Heart and Lung Act, a disability benefit meant mostly for police and firefighters, Williams gets 100% of his $78,092 salary and isn’t required to pay state or federal taxes on it, at least a 20% raise. A Police Department directive, however, prohibits officers who are out with Heart and Lung claims from working any other job in any capacity.
In Williams’ driveway sat a bright blue and white pickup truck, covered with logos and slogans for Exterior Solutions Roofing and Siding. On LinkedIn, Williams has a photo of himself in his police uniform, with the words “Business Owner at Exterior Solutions, LLC.”
But Williams insisted that the roofing business wasn’t his. “That’s my wife’s car,” he said, “and her business.”
Yet during the months since June when Williams was listed as too hurt to work as a cop, Exterior Solutions’ customers praised “Alfie and his crew” for work the company had recently done on their properties.
A Langhorne resident in a recent interview said that while Williams didn’t physically put a new roof on his house last fall, he gave him an estimate, came out twice to instruct the roofers, and returned to pick up payment.
While Philadelphia buckled in 2021 under the weight of record gun violence that shattered families and devastated neighborhoods, at least 652 police officers were missing in action, the majority due to Heart and Lung claims.
Under this system, three doctors selected by the police union treat most of the officers; last year, they designated all but 65 of the officers as “no duty,” meaning hundreds were unavailable to handle even tasks such as filing paperwork, answering phones, or testifying in court. (One doctor resigned in late December and hasn’t yet been replaced.)
That number has more than doubled in seven years, when city officials counted about 270 cops on the “no duty” roster. In 2003, a year before the benefit was made available to Philadelphia, the department listed only 19 cops as “injured on duty.”
All told, 14% of patrol officers are listed as Injured on Duty, according to The Inquirer’s analysis of internal Police Department documents. Judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers have separately complained that the missing officers cause criminal cases to be delayed or dismissed.
Compared with other cities, Philadelphia has a vastly higher percentage of its police force out of work due to injuries. In Phoenix, for example, six out of every 1,000 officers are injured; in Chicago that number is 33. But in Philadelphia, 110 per every 1,000 officers were hurt, as of last fall.
The investigation has found numerous cops who have claimed to be too injured to work but at the same time launched new businesses, toiled at physically strenuous jobs, rode motorcycles, played sports, and ran marathons.
Heart and Lung benefits are meant to be for a temporary disability, and its multistep claims process is subject to oversight. Even so, police and city officials say that too many officers frequently abuse this well-intentioned benefit, which has no cap on how long officers can stay out or how many times they can submit a claim. While officers are out, they continue to accrue vacation, unlimited sick time, and years served so they can retire with a full pension.
“Heart and Lung is the biggest scam going,” said Charles H. Ramsey, who was infuriated with the way in which the benefit was administered when he was Philadelphia’s police commissioner from 2008 to 2016.
“A lot of these are just bull— injuries. … They hurt their pinkie fingers and they’re out four months.”
The Inquirer discovered that some use Heart and Lung like a revolving door, filing new claims year after year, or their injured status seems endless. As of September, more than a dozen officers have been out for at least four consecutive years. An additional 17 officers have not worked since 2018, and 45 more not since 2019, according to internal records from that month.
One 22nd District officer has filed 18 claims during her 19-year career. While out on a 2021 injury claim, she unabashedly set up a clothing boutique and modeled dresses, jumpsuits, and rompers on her website and her Facebook page.
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Seven current and former commanders who spoke on the condition of anonymity say the city has tolerated rampant abuse for years, and, in the process, sends a conflicting message to rank-and-file officers about the importance of honesty and upholding the law.
John McNesby, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, declined several interview requests. The FOP has, in the past, mostly dismissed concerns that city officials raised publicly about Heart and Lung.
All of this feeds into a personnel shortage, at a time when recruitment has slowed to a trickle. The department is missing at least 652 cops who are out injured, mostly on Heart and Lung claims, 500 unfilled positions, 87 who are under investigation, 115 detailed to other agencies, and 50 on family leave.
The number of reported police injuries has actually fallen 30% over the last decade, from 1,265 in 2009 to 884 in 2021. But over that same time, the total days that cops stay out on Heart and Lung has nearly tripled.
That increase can’t be wholly attributed to the civil unrest that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop, and the police shooting death of Walter Wallace Jr. in the Cobbs Creek section of Philadelphia, according to Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter. She estimates that local protests, which sometimes turned violent, resulted in 50 to 60 serious injuries to police officers.
“If everybody’s legitimately injured, it doesn’t hurt morale,” Coulter said. “It hurts morale when you know they should be here, too. It’s a frustration for all of us.”
What’s more frustrating, though, is that despite widespread agreement that some officers are taking advantage of taxpayers, little has been done — not by the Police Department, city government, or the police union — and the problem persists. The tab is growing: During the 2021 fiscal year, the city spent $24 million on salaries for police officers who are on Heart and Lung, up from $6.7 million in 2008.
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, when briefed on The Inquirer’s findings, called the issue “a significant concern” that her office will now examine as part of an audit of the department.
“The trends that you have uncovered are ones that are troubling,” she said. “… As a city, we need to be saying this type of behavior — if there’s abuse of Heart and Lung, and cops not showing up to court — is not acceptable.”
‘Milking’ the program
Barry Scott, the head of the city’s Office of Risk Management, has watched with dismay as the weekly number of injured officers has risen in recent years, like the boxes and binders of records stacked precipitously around his office on the 14th floor of the One Parkway Building on Arch Street.
A sign below the window reads: “You don’t have to be crazy to work here. We’ll train you.”
Scott has deep respect for police officers and the dangers they face. He says it repeatedly, calling it perhaps the toughest job in the city. And he would know: His department handles the claims of all injured city workers.
“We’re really grateful for them,” said Scott, the city’s risk manager since 2003. “And we try to get them back to health as best we can.”
But, based on the cases that come across Scott’s desk, he said he has long suspected that some officers have been “milking” the program, treating it as a de facto raise with time off. And the problem just gets worse.
“I wish I could say I was making this stuff up, because it’s so ridiculous,” Scott said, recalling an officer who claimed he was too injured even to testify in court but was somehow riding a large motorcycle. A Heart and Lung doctor (not a current one) said it was “therapeutic,” Scott said.
The seeds of the Heart and Lung morass were planted in the mid-1990s, when George Kenney, a now-retired Republican state representative from Northeast Philadelphia, introduced legislation to give city police officers and firefighters access to the tax-free benefit, formally known as the Enforcement Officer Disability Benefits Act.
For years, the FOP had argued that the city treated injured cops poorly, rushing them back to work before they’d fully healed through a system known as Civil Service Regulation 32. Under that system, cops went to city-designated doctors, and paid time off for injuries was capped at a maximum of three years over an entire career.
Heart and Lung benefits became available to Philadelphia in 2004.
The program is a misnomer; it has nothing to do with heart and lung ailments. Rather, the story goes that firefighters coined the phrase because cardiopulmonary problems were most prevalent among their ranks when they got hurt on duty.
Heart and Lung gave officers autonomy over their medical care, a provision even more important than the tax break.
The process behind the benefit, however, is convoluted. Cops who file an injury claim must first be evaluated at a city-designated clinic, but they can switch to one of the three Heart and Lung doctors at any time.
These doctors, who are selected by the FOP, hold enormous sway. They determine how much time an officer needs to recover from an injury and whether an officer can return in even a limited capacity.
The city pays a private company, PMA, $6 million a year to administer medical benefits to cover injuries of all city employees, a task that includes looking into each claim. If an officer was hurt in the line of duty, a PMA adjuster typically will approve the Heart and Lung claim.
In fiscal year 2019, PMA approved 96% of Heart and Lung claims among police officers. (In fiscal year 2021, the company denied 29% of claims; the increase was mostly due to officers who contracted COVID but claimed the illness was work-related.) Cops can appeal any denials.
George Kenney would later say he believed that any abuse of the benefit would be “exposed and dealt with.” But that sort of straightforward accountability has never come easy to Philadelphia.
‘Do you have a brain tumor?’
Not long after the Heart and Lung benefit was made available in Philadelphia, certain officers became a regular fixture on the list of those who were too injured to work. Among them was one named Jennifer Palumbo.
Palumbo was already well-known within the Police Department for having gone to great lengths to deceive her colleagues about a supposed health crisis.
On a January afternoon in 2001, a pair of then-captains, Tom Nestel and Anthony Boyle, sat down with Palumbo, who worked for them in the 25th District. They asked if she had claimed that she had less than a year to live, due to a brain tumor that had spread aggressively.
“Yes,” Palumbo said, according to an interview transcript obtained by The Inquirer.
Palumbo had told her bosses that punishing radiation treatments had left her with severe headaches. They changed her work schedule to allow her to rest and gave her time off to travel to Italy with her then-boyfriend, who believed the vacation was her final wish.
“Do you have a brain tumor?” Boyle asked.
“No,” Palumbo responded.
But she had submitted a doctor’s note, which described Palumbo being treated for a “grade two” brain tumor. When Boyle contacted the doctor, he said he had only a vague memory of Palumbo and insisted he’d never written her a note.
Confronted with this, Palumbo told Nestel and Boyle: “I wrote it myself.”
She explained that she’d fabricated the story about her illness because she worried her boyfriend, Frank Palumbo — a police officer whom she later married — would leave her.
“I did a desperate act to keep him,” she said.
The department didn’t fire Palumbo for the deception or for submitting a forged doctor’s note. Instead, it suspended her.
Not only did Palumbo remain on the force, she also was promoted to sergeant — and then went out on Heart and Lung from April 2010 to March 2013 with a finger injury. She returned to work and was promoted to lieutenant.
Palumbo went out again on Heart and Lung for another three years, from September 2017 until September 2020 with a hand injury. At that time, she returned to limited duty working a desk job, a designation she still holds today.
Palumbo did not respond to requests for comment.
‘Living our best life’
The Police Department experienced a seismic shift in 2008, when a new top cop arrived in town: Ramsey. It didn’t take long for him to conclude the institution had troubling integrity problems. The disciplinary code hadn’t been updated since 1968, and officers fired for misconduct routinely got their jobs back through arbitration.
And then there was Heart and Lung. By then, Scott, the city’s risk manager, had begun to publicly question whether the new benefit was being abused. The number of officers who were out with injuries had shot up to nearly 300.
Terry Reid, the FOP’s disability coordinator, portrayed Scott’s concerns as sour grapes because “the city doesn’t have 100% control of treatment anymore,” she said at the time. (Reid didn’t respond to interview requests for this story.)
Ramsey had spent decades in Chicago’s police department and been police chief in Washington, D.C. Neither city offered unlimited, tax-free benefits like Philadelphia. “When I found out about it,” he said, “I could see how easy it was to abuse.”
He had no qualms about taking care of cops who’d risked their lives and had the scars to prove it — ones who’d been shot, stabbed, or mangled in car wrecks. But too often, Ramsey found that officers were out for months after claiming they’d tripped on a stairwell, stumbled in a parking lot, or turned a steering wheel with too much force.
“I mean, yeah, you need time off to have the ability to heal and so forth,” he said. “But why do we have that kind of situation, where you wind up making more money by being off than when you’re working?”
By 2011, the number of injured cops had climbed to 331. Exasperated, Ramsey turned to McNesby and Rhynhart, who was the city’s then-budget director: Couldn’t something be done?
“I said: ‘Let’s investigate them! Do surveillance! If you find them lifting weights, take action against them,’” Ramsey said.
By 2015, when Ramsey’s tenure in Philadelphia was nearing its end, the number of cops on Heart and Lung had dropped to 276. That same year, a police sergeant named Travis Wolfe Sr. began what would be a more than 900-day stay on Heart and Lung.
Wolfe injured his right hand and right foot while making an arrest and underwent wrist surgery and physical therapy.
He told the city that hand movements of any kind caused him pain. Medical tests didn’t substantiate his claim, according to redacted information provided by the city. (The city did not mention Wolfe, or any officer by name, but reporters learned their identities through sources.) The Heart and Lung provider determined that Wolfe wasn’t able to go back to work, not even on a limited basis.
While taxpayers paid his salary, Wolfe managed to launch a new career as a motivational speaker, in violation of the police policy forbidding outside employment while designated as “no duty.”
In this video, Travis Wolfe describes how he overcame hardship and is “living the life that I always desired to live.”
His business was no secret. He started a website and became a growing force on social media platforms — so much so that he garnered the attention of police and city officials.
The city put Wolfe under surveillance. He traveled abroad, gave speeches, and posted videos, some of which recounted a harrowing childhood that included poverty, sexual and physical abuse, foster care, starvation, and homelessness.
“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” he posted on his website in June 2016. “Be willing to pay the price for success.”
Wolfe also missed an appointment with a Heart and Lung doctor in 2016 while he managed to drive to California, according to the redacted information, and was observed “performing activities inconsistent with his disability.”
The city terminated his benefits in October 2018. By then, Wolfe had moved with his wife and three children to California while still an employee of the Philadelphia Police Department. Police brass called him back for a residency hearing. Before they could take action, Wolfe resigned. He applied for a disability pension based on his original injury with Philadelphia’s Board of Pensions, and won.
Wolfe did not respond to requests for comment. He’s written a book — Go Be Great! Overcome and WIN! — and describes himself on his website as an Army veteran and a retired police sergeant, and as someone whose life has been transformed by the decision to pursue motivational speaking.
On Jan. 2, Wolfe posted a photo on Facebook of his family jumping for joy. The caption began: “Living our best LIFE.”
‘It really ties our hands’
City officials have long complained that doctors are too quick to label injured officers as being unable to testify in court, and keep them off the force for longer-than-necessary periods of time with extensions — a characterization that one Heart and Lung doctor says isn’t accurate.
According to city data, the majority of police officers, firefighters, and sheriff’s deputies who have been injured on duty were treated by two doctors, Rocco Costabile and Richard J. Berger, at Holmesburg Family Medicine Associates, a one-floor office on Frankford Avenue.
Since 2018, the city has paid the Holmesburg practice about $1 million to treat cops, mostly with Heart and Lung claims. A third physician in South Philadelphia, Paul Sedacca, was paid $257,000.
Berger and Costabile each declined to comment. Costabile resigned from the practice Dec. 29.
Sedacca, 73, the father of a Florida police officer, has been a Heart and Lung doctor since 2005. He said Democratic cities like Philadelphia are “cesspools” that don’t support the police during a time when he believes their injuries are more severe.
Despite his “soft spot” for cops, he said, he tries to get them healthy and back to work as quickly as possible. “They’re not going to pull the wool over my eyes.”
Sedacca said he’s told the city that fewer officers should be out on lengthy injury claims, and has coded many of them as ready to be removed from Heart and Lung.
As of last September, of the 652 officers on the injured-on-duty list, only 65 were deemed healthy enough to testify in court.
Coulter, the deputy commissioner, said there are legitimate reasons for an officer not being able to testify — taking powerful medication that could hinder memory and speech, for example. But she finds it inconceivable that this scenario would apply to the nearly 600 cops at the same time.
“At the end of the day,” Coulter said, “the doctor checks that box — ‘no duty, no court’ — and it really ties our hands.”
Some commanders have grown fed up with officers who vanish for years with seemingly minor injuries, and say the department has avoided addressing the problem for too long.
“It’s a shame we don’t even hold ourselves accountable,” said one district captain, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t have permission to discuss the issue publicly.
“There’s no active investigation on these IOD [injured on duty] individuals,” added the recently retired high-ranking police officer with more than 30 years on the job, who says many cops refer to the scammers as “Heart and Bums.”
“If they knew that there was a unit, either inside or outside the department, dedicated to just making sure that the IOD process was handled properly and responsibly, that would diminish those fraudulent cases. Right now, there is no retribution for people who commit fraud.”
(Once in a while, for example, PMA may surveil an officer if it gets information from a supervisor that the claim is dubious.)
Two injured brothers
For Ryan and James Nuss, Heart and Lung has been a family affair. The brothers are both listed as injured on duty — James has been absent from the 19th District since June 2020; Ryan hasn’t worked in the 14th District since March 2021.
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James suffered a foot injury when a projectile was thrown at him during a violent weekend protest in West Philadelphia after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
And last spring, Ryan Nuss suffered a facial injury.
But both work at their family’s business, Karley’s Linens, on Disston Street near I-95 in the Tacony section. Their mother, Christine Nuss, is listed as company president.
One afternoon in November, a reporter visited Karley’s Linens. A muscular, bearded man with a tattoo sleeve on his right arm entered the office from a side door to an attached garage.
“Hi, how can I help you?” he asked.
The reporter told him she wanted to talk to Ryan or James. He said he was Ryan. When the reporter identified herself and told him she was doing a story on the growing number of cops out on Heart and Lung, he said he couldn’t talk about it.
“Well, you work here, right?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
“And you’re Ryan Nuss?”
“No,” he said. “I’m a Ryan.”
Then James Nuss walked into the store.
“Hi,” the reporter said. “Are you James?”
“No,” he said, as he turned away and lowered his head.
Ryan insisted he had nothing more to say and asked the reporter to leave, showing her the door.
On a cold December day, an Inquirer reporter and photographer sat in a car outside Karley’s. Before long, they saw the two brothers at work. James moved a white business sign several times to and from the sidewalk to hold a parking spot for a customer. Hours later, he hoisted two large colorful bags into a waiting car. Ryan, in blue jeans and a gray T-shirt, moved a white company van.
Unlike the Nuss brothers, the city put a watchful eye on Officer Felix Nosik after an injury left him unable to do police work.
Nosik slipped down some steps on the job in September 2016 and ruptured a bicep tendon, which was surgically repaired the following month. He started physical therapy and was transferred to Heart and Lung. It was his 12th injury claim during his career.
In February 2018, a surgeon released him to full duties.
That didn’t last. Nosik was involved in a non-work-related car accident. He developed a number of additional complaints that a Heart and Lung doctor attributed to the September 2016 work injury and kept him on “no duty” status.
The city put him under surveillance and discovered Nosik was actually working at two businesses he owned: Xander Auto, where he buys and sells used cars, and Xander Electric. He was observed with a work belt and tools going to various homes.
After he was found out, his benefits were terminated. Only then did he return to full duty in January 2020.
In November, he told an Inquirer reporter that he left the department in May 2021. A doctor had concluded he had a non-work-related medical issue and a city medical director approved him for a non-work-related disability pension.
“I think they screwed me over because they basically told me I had to go out on a disability,” he said.
‘It is fraud’
In cities like Buffalo, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Calif., and New York, prosecutors have used photo and video evidence to prove that some police officers have faked injuries. In some instances, officers were charged federally with health-care fraud, insurance fraud, and perjury, with at least three cops being sentenced to six months in prison, followed by two years of probation.
That hasn’t been the case, so far, in Philadelphia.
In a recent interview, District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office is aware of the long-standing concerns about Heart and Lung abuse and believes some officers are “gaming the system, and in my opinion, committing crimes by engaging in fraudulent practices to stay home at a time of national and citywide crisis.”
“I think that there are many people who are [injured on duty] whose claim is legitimate,” Krasner said.
“I think that’s true, but it’s a little bit hard to look at the numbers you just identified, right, and not see an obvious, flagrant, blatant, almost inexplicable spike that should cause us all to ask a lot of questions, and look very closely.”
Ramsey goes a step further.
“It is fraud,” he said. “If it can be proven, it ought to be prosecuted.”
If it can be proven, it ought to be prosecuted.
The FOP declined to answer any questions about potential abuse of the disability benefit system. But its 2021 three-year, $133 million contract with the city did include a small provision that explicitly limited Heart and Lung benefits only to officers who are injured while involved in “the protection of life and property, enforcement of laws, and/or investigation of crimes.”
The change would, in theory, eliminate scenarios in which cops could receive the disability benefit for tripping in the office restroom or while putting air in their patrol car tires, two recent successful claims.
In the meantime, the loss of so many police officers is being felt across the criminal justice system.
Krasner said his office has asked Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to provide his office with up to 50 detectives who would focus on solving the thousands of nonfatal shootings that occurred in Philadelphia in recent years. Outlaw was open to the idea, he said, but didn’t have the officers to spare because of the ongoing personnel shortage.
He added that the DA’s Office is “having cases thrown out, we are losing cases at times as a result of police officers who are not, in fact, legitimately injured on duty but are claiming to be.”
Judges are now attempting to clearly document when delays in court cases are caused by cops who are out with injuries. Last June, after court officials met with police brass, they decided that the dockets would include the name and badge number of the officers unable to testify because they were listed as injured on duty.
In the meantime, some police commanders are struggling to staff their districts, and they’re short on reinforcements. A class of recruits hasn’t graduated from the police academy since December 2020, when about 50 new officers joined the force. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought hiring and recruitment to a standstill for months. Another new class of recruits wasn’t added until July 2021, and that group — which has about 45 members — likely won’t graduate until April, said Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesperson.
In Northeast Philadelphia’s 2nd District, more than 20% of the officers are injured, according to an Inquirer analysis. And on Feb. 5, 2021, Edwin Padua became one of many cops in that district who were unavailable, even for light duty, due to injury.
While he was off the force, Padua kept busy. He played infield for the 3AM Boys, a slow-pitch softball team in the United States Specialty Sports Association, according to a team roster.
In fact, Padua was one of the league’s top players in 2021. In September, he was given a defensive MVP award during a tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., then named to an all-tournament team in October, according to the USSSA’s website.
That same month, Padua appeared in a livestream video of a game. Wearing a pinstripe No. 12 jersey, he dug into the batter’s box while a teammate yelled, “Let’s go, Ed!” and Padua smacked a single into right field.
He returned to his job in the 2nd District on Oct. 15.
Two months later, on Dec. 17, a reporter visited his home in Pottstown, Montgomery County, and a woman, who identified herself as a Philadelphia cop and his fiancee, said Padua was sick and couldn’t talk. Padua did not respond to requests for comment.
‘Another huge scandal’
Heart and Lung abuse doesn’t need to be another Philadelphia problem that festers for years.
Ramsey said the current disability system should be abolished and replaced with one that has limits and better checks and balances. He suggests enlisting some of the city’s top hospitals, like the University of Pennsylvania, to treat injured officers and evaluate their recoveries.
Coulter said the city could advocate for such a step, with the Police Department’s backing, but it would have to be negotiated with the FOP.
“I’ve had conversations for years with the FOP, because I do understand unions have a duty to represent, and they have a job to do,” she said. “But they also represent the officer that comes to work every day that doesn’t have sufficient backup.”
She sketched out other reforms, such as requiring doctors to explain in writing why an officer can’t testify in court or why some are out for years with injuries that ordinarily take weeks or months to heal. Coulter also thinks it’s time to end the tax-free perk that Heart and Lung offers, a change that would likely require state legislation.
“I’d like them to make what an officer who’s coming back to work makes,” she said. “I’d like to disincentivize staying out beyond the point you’re well.”
I’d like to disincentivize staying out beyond the point you’re well.
One commander argued that the department needs to level with taxpayers about the full scope of Heart and Lung abuse and warn scammers to come back to work — or risk being fired.
“It’s going to be another huge scandal,” the commander said. “But it could be done.”
All of these, though, are pie-in-the-sky ideas that will require time and political momentum. For now, the deeply flawed system remains. With no other options, some police officials have resorted to writing memos to the department’s safety office to object to Heart and Lung claims that they feel are questionable, according to records that The Inquirer obtained.
In North Philadelphia’s 22nd District — which recorded 297 shootings in 2021, the highest of any district — 43 cops are out with Heart and Lung claims. But none have been out for as long, or as often, as Dominique Johnson.
Johnson, who joined the force in April 2003, has accumulated 18 IOD claims and been out on Heart and Lung a total of seven years. Add four years for leaves of absences — some of which were paid — and she’s been home 11 years.
Her boss, Capt. Nashid Akil, noted in a December 2020 memo to the Police Department’s safety office that Johnson’s been caught lying about previous injuries. “P/O Johnson stated that she injured herself while assisting with the arrest of a prisoner. After speaking with supervisors and officers on the scene of her arrest, her claims of being involved or receiving injuries for the arrest were false,” Akil wrote in the memo. (He declined to comment.)
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Johnson has “established a reputation of reporting frivolous claims,” alleging injuries without witnesses, those unrelated to police duties and occurring when she chose to not activate her body-worn camera, he wrote.
In one instance, Johnson reported that she “hurt her hand while turning the steering wheel of a police vehicle,” Akil wrote. Her repeated claims, he added, have “made a mockery” out of officers who legitimately risk their lives.
Akil penned his memo after Johnson reported another injury. This time, Johnson told a supervisor that she’d fallen down some steps while walking to the women’s locker room in her district headquarters and hurt her lower back and right leg — but didn’t want to go to a hospital.
The matter ended up in arbitration. In March 2021, arbitrator Walt DeTreux wrote that the city and the FOP had reached an agreement. Johnson couldn’t have the Heart and Lung benefit again.
But she didn’t have to return to police work. Instead, she went out on a claim that she was injured on the job, but not while performing police duties, and had to go to a city doctor. Since she was designated as “no duty,” she was prohibited from any outside work.
Johnson took that time at home to open a clothing business, 8289 N. Luxury Boutique. She made the announcement on her Facebook page Oct. 20.
“I launched my store!” she wrote. “8289 n. Luxury Boutique is officially open for business and ready to take orders.”
On a buzzfile.com profile of the business, Johnson is listed as CEO. Only one employee is associated with the business, and annual revenue is listed as $30,881. The address of the boutique is on North 16th Street near 67th Avenue in a home she owns.
When contacted, however, she said the boutique wasn’t her business. The reporter told her that Johnson’s name is the only one attached to the boutique.
“Are you serious?” she asked incredulously. “Well I’m going to have to look into it because it shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t be like that.”
“This is actually my sister’s boutique. It’s just that she uses my address because of the fact that she lives in an apartment,” she said.
What role did Johnson play in the business, then?
“I’m an ambassador and model for the business,” she replied.
In mid-December, a month after she spoke to an Inquirer reporter, she returned to work on light desk duty.
As for the sheer number of IOD claims, she said: “So what does that have to do with anything? … I’ve been on the job more than 19 years.”