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Nevada Sheriff, County, Vendor, and Outside Counsel, Fight Against Treatment of Brave Detective’s Debilitating On-Duty Injury. Part One.

By Steve Pomper

What were you doing about three years ago, let’s say, on June 25th, 2020? Maybe you enjoyed a bike ride, went to work, celebrated an anniversary, a birthday, or, more likely, you don’t remember

Now, what have you done over the past three years? Probably lots of those things and more. But if you’re a mistreated sheriff’s deputy in Nevada, you’re doing less of those fun things and many more not-so-fun, but necessary, things that you can’t forget.

Washoe County Courthouse, Reno, Nevada

Well, speaking of stuff you’d rather forget, “Constructively Terminated,” Washoe County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) Detective Kim Frankel remembers exactly where she was on that June day and what she’s been doing every single day since. She was on duty, driving a county car when a drug impaired driver crashed into her. The impact initially caused whiplash, lumbar strain, and a concussion.

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Just another humorous cop “war story” is what this should have been. After the guy hit her, he fled. Injured but having none of it, Det. Frankel, Kim, did what any good cop would do. According to Leslie Bell, a Washoe County Sheriff Deputies Association (WCSDA) Workers’ Compensation Representative, Kim chased the suspect—and nabbed him. (I usually refer to officers by their titles and last names, but I thought this situation warranted more familiarity. I’ll also apply this to Leslie, as she is an integral part of Kim’s story).

Leslie said the suspect got out of the car and “came at Kim.” She said, “Kim then did what cops do… identifying herself and getting him to comply.” Bell said the stupefied suspect said, “You’re a f—ing cop?” But this incident is not a humorous cop anecdote. What’s happening to Kim is not funny.   

So, that’s what happened more than three years ago. But what’s happened over the past three years plus, and what is still happening to a dedicated, then-16-year veteran of the WCSO? The NPA felt it is important to illuminate this travesty by providing our readers with this introductory article and then follow-up articles as necessary.

As mentioned above, Kim initially suffered whiplash, lumbar strain, and a concussion. She returned to the job on light-duty. But one day her hands began to cramp, and “claw” involuntarily and eventually involved other muscles.

Kim told KOLO 8 News, “I was scared to death because I didn’t know what was happening to me.”

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Kim filed a routine workers’ comp claim. But, while the claim was accepted, the diagnoses by multiple doctors of Kim’s affliction within the claim weren’t. This dispute has kept Kim from receiving prompt and proper medical care for nearly three and a half years. Though the county says there are “two sides to the story,” so far, they refuse to give their side, citing ongoing litigation.

Far worse, when first diagnosed, doctors told Kim, “There may only be a three-year window for treatment to be effective.” It’s been about three years and four months, now.

We want to know the why. Why would supposedly responsible corporate professionals and government officials allow a respected deputy, injured in the line of duty, to suffer irreparable harm by rejecting a confirmed, legitimate medical diagnosis?  

Like us, you’ll likely wonder how is this not an offense against morality, ethics, and human decency?

I wish I could tell you her recovery went well, and she’s back at work fulltime—so does she. But her condition only got worse, and the people charged with protecting her, abandoned her.

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Ed Pearce at KOLO wrote, “An on-duty traffic accident [collision] caused by a… [drugged] driver cost her her career. But it was the county’s denial of prompt treatment which may have condemned her to a life with a debilitating condition.”

Leslie mentioned Kim was a competitive athlete. However, though she does her best to maintain a workout regimen, her condition causes her muscles to involuntarily and painfully contract, restricting what she can do.

I won’t pretend this situation isn’t pissing me off. I am incensed both as a retired cop and as a compassionate human being about this fine public servant’s horrific treatment. Still, I’ll subdue my anger and disillusionment to help tell her story (okay, some anger may ooze onto the page).

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If you already know Kim, you can count yourself fortunate, and you know what I mean. She is a remarkable woman who, since her injuries are likely a lifelong debilitation, is still battling the corruption so others don’t similarly suffer. And if you already know about her agony, you can join us in bewildered indignation.

This is not just about an amorphous corporate/government toxic organism treating a public servant so deplorably. It’s also about the appalling way the people running that system are treating a cop who put her life on the line for over a decade and a half for her community.

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My heart was crushed by what’s happened to Kim to this point and by what they’re still putting her through. But, even more than anger, I’m inspired by her singular, positive response to the torment people she trusted would be there when she needed them most are allowing (causing) her to go through. Working to change a flawed system.

A system staffed with people who when she needed them abandoned—wait, it’s more like, discarded—her, as they now saw her as no longer useful—to them. Kim didn’t deserve this life sentence.

We know the what and the who but, most perplexing, the why is a cruel mystery. Before I’d spoken to anyone involved, even Kim, my mind struggled with the why, and even after learning more details, the struggle continues.

This situation is not amusing, but I pride myself on being a happy warrior, and it seems Kim views herself similarly. When questioning why these supposed professionals are treating her so cruelly, I jokingly wondered if she’d gone to these folks’ homes and kicked their dogs.

Is this callous treatment due to ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, or malice? I have to lean toward malice because even if the original intent wasn’t malicious, the result unquestionably is. It seems, in Kim’s case, ignorance spawned incompetence which generated arrogance, which ultimately produced malice.

For instance, if you accuse someone of wrongdoing because you’re ignorant that two different terms refer to the same medical diagnosis, this suggests incompetence, but when your arrogance won’t allow you to admit you’re wrong, that suggests malice.

Six months after the collision, Kim finally received a diagnosis: dystonia. The Mayo Clinic describes it as “a movement disorder that causes muscles to contract involuntarily [sometimes painfully] … caus[ing] repetitive or twisting movements.” Imagine even trying to sleep with such a condition. A condition that may have been treatable had she received the timely medical care doctors recommended.

Back to Leslie Bell, who generously shared her perspective based on 35 years handling workers’ comp claims. She had similar theories about the why. Ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, malice, etc.?

Leslie truly believes if they’d spoken with Kim and reviewed her history as an outstanding community member and a decorated deputy (awarded WCSO Bronze Star, national recognition for her work as a child sex crimes detective, and received VFW Officer of the Year), they never would have treated her this way. Still, some did know her.

Admittedly, there is a huge backlog in state workers’ comp cases, which may mitigate actions by some faceless corporate and state officials, but what about her command staff, including her boss—the sheriff?

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I was told that Sheriff Darin Balaam, who is a personal friend of Kim’s husband David, has never reached out to Kim—never contacted his deputy about her on-duty injuries. At what point does any decent person finally admit I made a terrible mistake, and no matter how they first got caught up in it, try to make amends?

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Leslie mentioned the WCSO has an “interactive process” designed to keep track of injured employees, their needs, and progress. She said for some reason they never did that with Kim. In fact, her first sheriff’s office staff meeting, including from Human Resources, after her dystonia diagnosis was disgraceful.

Kim and Leslie arrived at the sheriff’s office building (Kim said her husband, David, personally asked Sheriff Balaam to go the meeting, but he declined). Leslie said she and Kim, who has difficulty getting around, had to walk a significant distance to a conference room on the far side of the facility.

When they entered the room, Leslie said the people were obviously “shocked to see Kim’s condition.” Leslie believes that was when they decided Kim wouldn’t be returning to work, and they likely wanted to replace her quickly because the agency was shorthanded.

The WCSDA advised Kim not to attend another meeting under those conditions. Kim insisted she could attend if necessary because, unlike those tormenting her, she has integrity.

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After the second meeting, the WCSO attempted to fire Kim for insubordination for not attending a meeting she’d been advised not to attend. The termination was rescinded (when the DA got involved), after which the WCSO ordered Kim to use her sick and vacation pay. When that was exhausted, they placed her on an unpaid leave of absence and required her to pay for her own health insurance premiums. But they’re still fighting the diagnosis, thus the proper treatment as well.

Kim was forced to take an early retirement and secure health insurance through the retiree health plan. However, they “determined” she’d “voluntarily retired,” when it was really, as mentioned earlier, a constructive termination.

I recently wrote at NPA about cop moral injuries. It can happen when superiors betray people they are supposed to protect. This doesn’t only injure a person mentally, it wounds a person’s soul, so profound is the betrayal of an organization’s moral code. Results of a study involving “the National Police of Finland… showed that moral injury significantly predicted PTSD as well as its diagnostic clusters (i.e., avoidance, hyperarousal, re-experiencing).” And PTSD has certainly been connected with police officer alcohol addiction and suicide .

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Kim told the NPA the following:

While Washoe County and Washoe County Sheriff’s Office were in Contempt of Court to get me medical treatment and pay me TTD benefits, THEY ( I had no access to) drained my personal stored up sick, vacation, comp time/bank to pay me and terminated me several times, which were rescinded.

Once they successfully exhausted my leave bank, they informed the WCSDA president, Jason Lesher, they were putting me on Administrative unpaid leave of absence which would also cause me to lose my retiree benefits FOREVER!!!! Thus, forcing me to prematurely draw upon my Public Employment Retiree System (PERS) to financially survive and keep the medical benefits they knew I was in desperate need of! 

Leslie said she’s been involved with workers’ comp cases for the Sheriff’s Office for over 25 years. She said she’s never seen a case like this one where an employee has been treated so horribly and denied care for a catastrophic injury, which also includes a TBI (traumatic brain injury).

It’s so bad, in 2021, the county denied Kim’s dystonia diagnosis despite her two neurologists, the county’s neurologist and a psychiatrist all documenting that her dystonia stemmed from the DUI collision. There was no medical evidence the condition was related to anything other than the “industrial accident.”

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Inexplicably, though she needed immediate treatment, the people and system in place to protect sheriff’s office employees injured in the line of duty chose to fight the diagnosis those competing doctors agreed on. Rather than authorize her medical treatment, in fighting her diagnosis, they essentially tortured Kim by requiring she endure numerous medical tests.

Kim told KOLO, “They wanted me to have Parkinson’s or MS.” She might not know that, but it’s hard to argue against. Those diagnoses would suggest it was congenital, or related to medication or heavy metal exposure, but absolutely not collision related.  

Kim continued, telling KOLO, even “the doctor that they hired to dispute the claim, wrote in his documentation that I had functional dystonia on an industrial basis.” And again, though the docs recommended the same treatment, she faced more delays and setbacks as the county continued to fight her diagnosis.

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KOLO’s Ed Pearce, who has covered this story tenaciously, observed, “So, the county keeps getting the same answer [favoring Kim] and keeps fighting [the diagnosis].”

Kim added, “You look at the cost of the nurse case manager, of the private investigator, and the attorneys, of their tests that they wanted to do, of the three IMEs [independent medical examinations] that they had done. That could have gone to my treatment, and maybe I’d be working today. Maybe I’d be back at my dream job.”

In April 2022, Kim suffered “her first Dystonic Storm….” She was “found unconscious in a hallway, rushed to emergency in convulsions.” She says she thought “she was going to die.”

Pearce added, “And the county continues to fight and lose. Life for the Deputy Frankel remains the same.”

To learn what was happening, KOLO requested an interview with the county comptroller “or the Human Resources Department. That request was denied.” Of course, “ongoing legal issues were cited.” “Ongoing” because of the county.    

But Kim isn’t waiting for the county to finally do the right thing, as they continue to “delay and stonewall.” In 1999, Nevada privatized their Workers’ Compensation System, which sounds harmless. However, as a part of that initiative “the legislature removed its bad faith clause.”

“Workers who believe their claims have been handled in bad faith must seek relief through administrative fines and defined penalties and have no civil recourse.” They are left to the whims of the county officials’ integrity. So, Kim and Leslie chose the legislature as the site of their next battle against corruption in the workers’ comp system.

Aside from staying as healthy as possible, Kim has “made it her mission to change…” what’s helped cause the hell they’ve put her through. She said, “I have already gone through the judicial process and prevailed through the Nevada Department of Administration and Appeals Office and prevailed through District Court. I am not here to prove my case; I’m here to share the corruption that’s taking place in the Workers’ Compensation system.”

Leslie told Kim, “Let’s change the law.” Kim was excited. Leslie said it wouldn’t be as easy as that, but they should try. We’ll cover that remarkable story in an upcoming article.  

KOLO reported that statewide the backlogged case appeals are in the “thousands and… growing. Behind each one is an employee waiting, often for years, for treatment.”

Again, this wasn’t simply a workplace injury. A sworn law enforcement officer was injured in the line of duty—by a criminal. The county Kim swore an oath to protect is obligated to treat her fairly and to allow the right doctors to treat her at all.

At the end of the KOLO interview, Pearce asked Kim, “Do you feel betrayed by the county—the system?”

Kim sighed and paused thoughtfully. Then she said, “Betrayed isn’t a strong enough word.”

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The Washoe County, NV Sheriff did not respond to a request for comment. And neither did the County Manager, County Comptroller, or the County HR Director.

The National Police Association has filed a public records request to get answers and retained a Nevada law firm to fight the predictable stonewalling of the request sure to follow. More on that later as well.

This post was originally published on this site