Deputy Disabled In Line Of Duty Attack Fights Department For Pension

Former Eaton County Sheriff's Sergeant Jim West developed a seizure disorder due to an on-duty attack.

Lansing, MI – A former Eaton County sheriff’s deputy with over two decades on the force nearly lost his duty-related disability pension eligibility due to resistance from his own department.

Former Eaton County Sheriff’s Sergeant Jim West, 49, developed epilepsy 20 years after he was viciously attacked by 25-year-old probation violator Gregory Sailer on Jan. 16, 1997, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The violent suspect repeatedly bashed Sgt. West in the head with a two-pound metal flashlight, his then-partner, Eaton County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Warder told the paper.

“The sound was the most sickening thud I’ve ever heard in my life,” Deputy Warder recalled. “I can still hear it to this day.”

Sgt. West was ultimately forced to shoot Sailer to end the attack.

“I was able to get a shot off to kill him,” the veteran deputy explained. “It’s not what I wanted to do. It’s what happened.”

Deputy Warder was also grazed by the round, the Lansing State Journal reported.

Both deputies were cleared of wrongdoing in the officer-involved shooting.

But two decades later, Sgt. West started experiencing seizures and debilitating headaches. A major seizure in February of 2017 left him dazed and hospitalized, and he has suffered from anxiety and memory loss ever since, the Lansing State Journal reported.

Doctors at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have both independently concluded that the seizures are the result of a brain lesion Sgt. West suffered in the 1997 attack.

Sgt. West subsequently applied for duty-related retirement in 2017, but county officials scoffed at assertion that his condition was the result of being injured in the line of duty.

An attorney for the county even referred to the attack as a “relatively minor event,” according to worker’s compensation documents.

Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich, who described Sgt. West as a “well liked” deputy, refused to place him on light duty for 18 months so he could reach his 25-year pension requirement.

Sheriff Reich refused to discuss the reasons why he didn’t support Sgt. West, and said he could not discuss details due to confidentiality requirements.

“I feel very bad that this happened to him,” he said. “He was a good leader. He looked good in a uniform. He presented himself to the public very well…Jim did a good job.”

Former Eaton County Sheriff Rick Jones, a 31-year veteran of the department who served three years as sheriff, said that the department’s failure to back Sgt. West was a “travesty.”

“It’s outrageous in my mind that the county and the sheriff are mistreating this man, terribly mistreating this man,” the former sheriff railed.

Former Eaton County Chief Deputy Joe Jager also expressed his support for the disabled sergeant.

“He’s out there protecting the community, and, as far as I’m concerned, the community owes him something,” the 33-year department veteran said.

West, the father of two grown daughters, said his savings has been demolished and that his credit card debt has skyrocketed due to not having access to his pension.

He was a member of the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office Scouts’ Explorer program at the age of 15, and was hired on a deputy in 1994, when he was 24 years old.

The 2014 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year led the department’s bicycle team, oversaw road patrols, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and especially enjoyed going to schools to teach kids about law enforcement.

“That was the only place I wanted to work,” he said. “That was it. That was my dream job.”

West said that the worst day of his life was when he was stripped of his gun and badge.

“It was a great career,” he said. “I miss it every day.”

His former partner has since retired from the Eaton Sheriff’s Office, and is now the Livingston County undersheriff.

“Jim West has given his life to the county’s sheriff office,” Undersheriff Warder said. “He’s a person who cared about the office and all the people he worked with. I really hope the county does the right thing with this. He’s earned it.”

The undersheriff scoffed at the notion that the attorney blew off the 1997 assault as a “relatively minor event,” the Lansing State Journal reported.

“Whoever wrote that wasn’t there to witness and hear and see the damage and severity of Deputy West getting hit in the head with that flashlight," he argued. "There's no doubt in my mind there's a connection between what happened that night and what's going on right now."

On April 25, the Municipal Employees Retirement System board unanimously voted to award the former sergeant a duty-related disability pension, despite Eaton County’s objection, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The county has the right to appeal the decision for the next 60 days, but Eaton County Controller John Fuentes said he does not expect that to happen.

“I will not recommend further pursuit and would expect the board to accept that recommendation,” Fuentes told the paper. “The county’s position was heard and ruled upon.”

West could now receive health care coverage in addition to a monthly pension.

"Honestly, I'm speechless," he told the Lansing State Journal. "This is a tremendous relief."

He will receive approximately three-quarters of his salary under a disability pension. If he would have received his full pension after 25 years of service, it would have been 80 percent on his salary.

Comments (16)
No. 1-8
SheepDawg
SheepDawg

As I have written previously: let this be a lesson to you who may be relatively new to the profession. You are, and never will be, more than a small cog in the wheel. Your Department, the respective jurisdiction and the bean counters who oversee "risk management" could not care any less about you. You will be expected to run towards the gunfire, endure the "administrative" bullshit (political correctness), deal with the jungle and be disregarded for the simplest reason.

I commend you for your choice of professions, we can't survive as a society without you, but be open-eyed. Be smart, be tactical. A group of 50 teenagers rioting? Wait for lot's of cover. You didn't create the little monsters and all you will do is put yourself, family and Department at "risk" by rushing in. Another family beef? Going in three minutes earlier will not make a difference for their 20 years of discord, but may well avoid that code-3 crash at a nearby intersection.

Buy the extra disability insurance that is offered, put money away from the start and ask yourself this question on every call "If they (administrators and the public) don't care, why should I?"

Be safe out there. Get home safely.

Baxter12
Baxter12

I, myself was diagnosed with epilepsy while serving in the military. I was mobilized for Operation Enduring Freedom at the time and I worked as a full time federal technician for the National Guard, it’s hard to explain to anyone that doesn’t know how that system works. In order to have your full time job (technician position) you have to have your military status. I started having seizures earlier part of 2007 not really knowing what they were, the “grandma seizures”. I had to go and manifest some soldiers coming home from theater and luckily on this trip I wasn’t by myself and on the way back to base I was driving and I had a seizure and sit through two red lights not knowing if any of my surroundings at all, cars were honking and going around me, the passengers that were with me couldn’t get my attention, I finally got out of the seizure and started driving when one of the individuals made me pull over and took over driving. Both passengers explained to me how neither of them could get my attention and explained what I had just done, very scary. This was when I knew I had to make a decision to see a neurologist. The seizures will drain your body of all energy you have, you can’t comprehend what’s going on around you it’s indescribable. I was placed in the hospital for a sleep study for 5 days and was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 45. I started having migraines as well as the seizures. I was placed on Keppra and Topamax.

There was one thing I learned quickly being a female throughout my 32 years of service and that was to take care of myself, because no one else will! I kept every piece of paper I had ever been given throughout my career. You see the military just wanted to kick me of off orders, I’d loose my full job, military retirement, however I was one step ahead of my chain of command. I requested a med board and since I had over 30 years of service I ended up with 80% disability, my technician disability, active duty retirement and VA disability.

No matter your age you can get epilepsy, give this man his pension, he put his life on the line, he kept our communities safe, he deserves every single dime plus restituition!!!!!

FrogHill
FrogHill

I would give blood just to watch some of these prissy ass "Decision Makers" bleed.

I don't know the dynamics of the attack on Sgt. West but as I read down the story I fully expected to read that Deputy Jeff Warder shot and killed the flashlight wielding shitbird but nope, Sgt West himself had to shoot, and kill the "Tonk" master that was assailing him

CJ_Caufield
CJ_Caufield

This is sad and unacceptable. Still. West deserves better. I am not familiar with every detail of the case. However, he needs his agency and chief to stand behind him. We must be careful. As stated above, be sure to take out insurance to make sure you are covered in the unlikely event of such a tragedy.

By these accounts, he served well, work diligently, and was loyal to the profession.

#SheepdogsUnite #NobodyLeftBehind

Storm45
Storm45

Good advice by Sheepdawg to youngsters starting out in the military or police work. Most of us that have served one or both institutions gave unwavering loyalty to the them, foolishly expecting loyalty in return. Always remember that no matter how much we may love the job and the organization, they in turn only view us as a piece of equipment with an expiration date.

See to your weapons and stand to your horses, Storm