Orlando, FL – A 16-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department (OPD) suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the Pulse nightclub shooting and other traumatic incidents during her career will be fired on Friday because the police chief has eliminated permanent light duty.
Orlando Police Officer Alison Clarke is one of many first responders who was diagnosed with PTSD in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016.
Officer Clarke is the second officer to be terminated as she sought disability retirement, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Former Officer Michael Napolitano, who was shot in his helmet at Pulse, was fired in September while he was still waiting for a medical exam needed by the pension board.
Officials intervened to get the doctor’s appointment scheduled in time and to bring his case in front of the pension board, and he was ultimately allowed to retire on medical disability before he was actually terminated, the Orlando Sentinel.
But Officer Clarke hasn’t been that fortunate.
She is waiting for a pension board hearing on her status that is scheduled for January of 2020, but the powers-that-be have informed her that her time is up on Nov. 8, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The police union’s contract gives employees who have applied for retirement 180 days to get approved or be terminated.
Officer Clarke’s application for a medical disability retirement will have been pending for 180 days exactly when she gets the axe on Nov. 8.
The officer pleaded with OPD Chief Orlando Rolon to delay her termination until after the pension board reviews her case in a letter on Oct. 24, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
"Please take my request under consideration, and allow me to complete this emotionally difficult separation from my department and my career as a law enforcement officer as a retirement and not a termination,” she wrote.
Officer Clarke told WFME that Chief Rolon – who was deputy chief when the Pulse massacre occurred – was initially very supportive.
She was the only officer who responded to the shooting at Pulse that night who had previously worked a security detail for the nightclub, according to ProPublica.
Officer Clarke worked triage through the night of the shooting at the nearby Einstein Bros. Bagels shop.
“Of course, they were traumatized, screaming and crying, and not knowing where they were going,” the officer described the chaotic scene. “At that point I started asking for ambulances, and there weren’t any ambulances that were responding at that point. So we just started loading up patrol cars and [fellow officer] Jimmy Hyland’s pickup truck and started running people to the hospital.”
She herself was traumatized from the events of that night but was able to return to normal duty - but not the night shift - and work through her PTSD with a therapist provided by the city’s Employee Assistance Program, ProPublica reported.
But then six months later, she found herself at ground zero of another traumatic event after Markeith Loyd murdered her sergeant.
Loyd, who was wanted for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend, fatally shot Orlando Police Sergeant Debra Clark in the parking lot of an Orlando Walmart, ProPublica reported.
“I had just started southbound when she came up on the air and you could hear the gunshots in the background,” Officer Clarke told WMFE in 2018. “She was my sergeant. I needed to be by her side and help her. So I must have dropped the crime scene tape and ran over and bent down and held her hand and tapped her leg and talked to her and told her that we were here and she was gonna be okay.”
She said she held her sergeant’s hand while other first responders performed CPR and then provided an escort to the hospital for Sgt. Clayton’s ambulance, according to ProPublica.
Her sergeant was pronounced dead at the hospital.
After that incident, Officer Clarke began experiencing episodes of hypervigilance, and the next time she had to draw her weapon, she said she couldn’t calm herself down afterwards, WMFE reported.
So she switched to light duty and entered a more intensive program for PTSD.
“Deputy Chief Rolon said timetable’s on me,” the officer told WMFE. “Whenever I’m ready to put a uniform back on and go back to work, I’ll be transferred to the airport and I’ll finish my career working at the airport.”
But then Deputy Chief Rolon became Chief Rolon, and he changed the department’s rules.
He eliminated permanent light duty which had previously allowed injured officers to stay on desk duty indefinitely, WMFE reported.
When Officer Clarke is terminated on Friday, she will have to go several months without a paycheck until pension board decides whether to retire her.
If she’s approved for retirement, she’ll be due back pay, but that doesn’t help her in the meantime, WMFE reported.
Once news of Officer Clarke’s imminent firing became public, the city and the police department issued a joint statement that said they “remain committed to supporting Officer Alison Clarke’s personal health and well-being.”
“Throughout her career and on the night of the Pulse Nightclub Attack, Officer Clarke bravely carried out her duties to help us further protect our Orlando community against horrific acts of violence,” City of Orlando Spokeswoman Karyn Barber said in a statement.