Insult to Injury

Some ex-deputies say BSO treated them like damaged goods after they got hurt on the job

She was moving prisoners to a cellblock on January 6, 2000, at the North Broward Detention Center when she slipped on an unmarked wet floor. Her right hand was full, so when she went down, she took the full impact on her left wrist. She dropped off the inmates, but her wrist was throbbing.

Like Brown, the 11-year veteran had devoted nearly her entire working life to BSO, starting there at age 20. "That's basically all I know," Cox says. She twice received commendations for evacuating prisoners and helping to extinguish fires in the jail. She also received good performance reviews and was Employee of the Month in September 1999.

When Cox fell, she had just passed the qualifying test to make sergeant and was on a waiting list. She was passed over, losing a big pay raise.

Colby Katz
Brown and her father, Don O'Brien, gave years of service to BSO. In return, she got the ax.
Colby Katz
Brown and her father, Don O'Brien, gave years of service to BSO. In return, she got the ax.

Workman's Comp sent her to Dr. Donald McCarthy in Pompano Beach -- the same doctor who Brown says ignored her injury. McCarthy x-rayed Cox's wrist and, seeing nothing broken, simply wrapped it. Weeks later, her wrist was more painful than ever; when she called back, she says, McCarthy told her that the pain was all in her head and that she just didn't want to work.

New Times attempted to contact McCarthy about his treatment of Brown and Cox, but he stated through his receptionist that he absolutely refuses to discuss his action in their cases.

Disgusted, Cox called Workman's Comp back and pleaded for another doctor. She was sent to Dr. David Gilbert for an MRI, which showed that she had torn her wrist cartilage. He operated to repair the damage in March 2000, and soon, Cox went back to work in the jail control room. She stayed on light duty for more than five months, anticipating a return to full duty as soon as her wrist improved.

But one day during physical therapy, she heard a loud pop from her wrist, and the pain got worse instead of better. That's when Gilbert gave up on her, saying that she was no longer fit to be a deputy. He said permanently fusing her wrist in one position was the only remaining option. Cox asked her Workman's Comp case manager if she could get a second opinion; the manager sent her to Dr. Marvin Kohn in West Palm Beach. Kohn did a second MRI in December 2000 and said he could restore her wrist to full movement. He called the case manager and told her that one more operation would make Cox fit for full duty after a few months of physical therapy.

"Risk Management knew this. The sheriff's office knew this," Cox says. "Then the sheriff's office decides to send me a letter saying I need to pick a position outside of being a deputy or else I'm going to get terminated."

Given until January 29, 2001, to find a new position, Cox dutifully reported to Veranda Daniel's office for a skills test. But Cox doesn't know if she passed or failed, she says. Even though she called to ask about several advertised openings, she never heard another word. "Veranda Daniel never did, truthfully, a damn thing to find me a position," Cox fumes.

Still hoping for a full recovery, Cox scheduled surgery with Kohn for July 2000. But as she was being prepped, her blood work came back indicating that she was pregnant. Her surgery was delayed.

Cox worked light duty for another month and then was told to go home on Workman's Comp. It was then that she says BSO's attitude toward her changed. "Personally, I think they did that because I was pregnant," Cox says, even though she had worked through eight months of her two previous pregnancies.

With bills piling up, the recently remarried Cox needed money. A private attorney told her that, while she waited, she could get another job without jeopardizing her BSO career as long as the job was within her acknowledged medical restrictions. She took a job answering phones.

Her surgery was rescheduled for February 2002, and Kohn told her that she should be ready for duty by June. But in January, before Kohn could operate, Cox received a letter from BSO saying that she was fired for being physically unable to perform as a deputy.

She then got a call in February from BSO Internal Affairs informing her that she was being investigated for "unauthorized outside employment." She had to laugh as she told the investigators that BSO had fired her the previous month.

On June 4, Kohn cleared her for light duty again and says she should be fully recovered in July -- not that it matters to BSO. Cox protested that she could soon be back, but BSO preferred to take Gilbert's opinion of her condition over Kohn's, even though Workman's Comp had approved sending Cox to Kohn.

Cox had briefly quit her phone-answering job when she went in for surgery but has since returned to it; due to the loss of her healthy BSO paycheck, she and her new husband have had to move to a smaller house.

Cox says she has been told that if she wants, she can reapply for her old job as a detention deputy -- as a new hire, thus losing her 11 years' seniority and the pay that went with it. But she's sure that even if she reapplied, BSO wouldn't rehire her. "I'm afraid now that if my attorney succeeds in getting my job back that they'll make it a living hell for me," Cox says.

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