Wellington, Florida – Florida State Rep. Matt Willhite publicly blamed a 35-year veteran police officer for getting injured by a distracted driver as he was directing traffic outside a school.
Willhite said the incident may have been avoided if the officer had been “doing his job.”
School District of Palm Beach County Police Officer Bob Keating, 59, has served as a school resource officer in the Wellington community for the past 12 years.
He also served as an officer in New York for over two decades, the Palm Beach Post reported.
“I was a cop in New York for 23 years…Never got hurt. Now I get run over by a soccer mom in Wellington,” Officer Keating said.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Willhite accused Officer Keating of not “doing his job” as a school resource officer, and said the officer should have been working to “protect the entire school campus and our children…not worry about getting cars out of the parking lot as he does every day.”
“It’s too bad this mom was a distracted driver not paying attention and on her cell phone,” Willhite wrote in the since-deleted post. “However, maybe if the cop was doing his job as an SRO and not as a traffic director, he wouldn’t have gotten hit.”
Willhite also included the hashtag, “#doyourjobSRO” towards the conclusion of his post.
Officer Keating was injured on Dec. 15, 2017, as he was directing traffic outside Wellington Landings Middle School, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Danielle Hamilton, 38, said she turned her head for a moment when her daughter distracted her, and that Officer Keating was in front of her moving vehicle when she looked back at the road.
“She didn’t see me,” Officer Keating said. “I don’t know how she didn’t see me. She turned in [to the school], so if she was going any faster, I would have been killed instantly. But because she turned in, when she hit me, I flew in the air. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t.”
Hamilton was cited for careless driving, and Officer Keating said he was told she was distracted by her cellphone when she hit him.
Hamilton and bystanders immediately rushed to the injured officer’s aid, and he was taken to a local hospital with broken knee bones, three herniated discs and internal bleeding, the Florida Police Chiefs Association said in a Facebook post.
He was unable to return to work for eight months due to his injuries, and continues to struggle with back pain, the Palm Beach Post reported.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” Officer Keating said. “My whole outlook on life has changed, because I had a near-death experience. I was a cop in New York for 23 years. I [worked] homicides. I was shot at. Never got hurt.”
Two weeks after he returned to work, Officer Keating was back outside the school, directing traffic.
Florida Police Chiefs Association President David Perry said he was disappointed to hear of Willhite’s negative comments regarding Officer Keating’s injuries.
“It is disappointing and painful to hear a local leader make comments that diminish the sacrifice that our law enforcement officers like Officer Keating make on a daily basis to protect our communities," Perry said.
According to the association’s post, Willhite claimed that he made the comment in an effort to raise awareness that more funding is needed to provide additional officers in schools.
"I'm fighting for more money, but when we only have one officer at the school, we need to utilize our resources as best as possible," he said. "I in no way meant to offend anyone in law enforcement."
"As far as I know, the guy is an officer with the Palm Beach County school district, so he's an SRO," Willhite continued. "My whole point is I'm a supporter of SROs in all of our schools, and with tough budgets and the need to have SROs in every school, we've got to rethink how we use what we've already got."