Former Orlando police officer goes to court over disability pension dispute

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Orlando Police officer Jonathan Mills showed no signs of irregular health when he applied to become an Orlando police officer at 29 years old, according to his attorney.

“His cardiac stress tests and EKG showed no abnormalities,” attorney Randy Brown said.

That was just the beginning of the argument from Brown, who represented Mills during the March pension board hearing process to determine if the former officer was eligible for a disability pension.

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Mills had already been terminated by the department. The union agreement requires the department to move forward with termination if a disability pension application is pending for more than 180 days.

Mills was granted two extensions because of unpreventable COVID-19 -related delays. The department signed off on two 45-day unpaid leave of absence extensions, and the second one ended in late January. The chief denied a third request, which is what led to his ultimate termination.

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That had no bearing on whether he could receive a disability pension. The pension board, though, denied his application at its meeting in March, citing insufficient evidence to prove he had total and permanent injuries.

“The problem for the application is that the fractured hand much like the 2018 issue wasn’t a permanent disability,” Assistant City Attorney David Margolis said during the hearing.

Mills was named officer of the year in 2018.

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But he is also accused of racial bias, repeatedly disciplined for misconduct involving use of force, and was named in lawsuits that led to more than $100,000 in payouts from the city coffers.

His attorney told the pension board that by 2018, Mills had been injured in several incidents while on duty and the same year started experiencing heart issues. And then, the following year, there was another altercation where he was injured.

“Including a broken hand, scraped right arm, as well and right knee pain,” Brown said.

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The city’s attorney argued that the heart and hand issues were not total and permanent injuries, so he doesn’t qualify for the disability pension.

“Whatever happened in 2018 clearly did not disable him permanently. We know this because [the doctor] cleared him to return to full duty a few weeks later, and in fact the applicant did return to full duty. The applicant even testified that he returned to the downtown bike unit and the special enforcement division which are two of the most demanding roles in the entire department. He worked for the next year and a half and worked thousands of hours by his own testimony,” Margolis said.

The biggest dispute during that pension board hearing is varying medical opinions, which is likely what will be the center of any testimony during this appeals process. Petitions for certiorari are typically reviewed by a panel of three circuit judges.

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The judges have the option to either grant an oral argument or decline oral argument and simply review the written arguments. New evidence typically isn’t allowed in this type of proceeding.  Instead, the judges will review the transcripts to determine whether Mills was granted due process, and whether the pension board’s findings are supported by competent evidence.

If Mills was granted due process, and if the board had a rational factual basis for finding that Mills wasn’t permanently and totally disabled, then the judges will deny the petition.

On the other hand, if the judges conclude that Mills was denied due process, or that the Board’s findings were totally contrary to all of the evidence, then the judges can require a new pension hearing or even order the board to grant a disability pension outright.