I understand why people blow their damn heads off,” former Mobile Police officer Jerald Riviere said about battling “severe depression” after being resigned from his post and losing everything, following an accident while on duty in March 2009. “You go deep, you go deep, you go deep, but I’m not going to kill myself.”
Riviere was injured when his patrol car was struck by a vehicle leaving a parking lot on Dawes Road. Since then, he’s been in an ongoing fight with the city to receive his full disability pension. Riviere has already received a $140,000 workers’ compensation settlement from the city and been given Social Security disability as a result of his injuries.
After being denied disability benefits by the Mobile Police Firefighters Pension Board in May 2013, Riviere had another hearing before the board last week. He appeared without an attorney, and board attorney Michael Druhan asked him repeatedly for any new evidence to help the board make a different determination.
Riviere repeatedly tried to tell the board that the facts of the 2013 case were based on lies. He said he wanted to go over the “fictional findings.” But Druhan wouldn’t allow it, telling Riviere he had a chance to appeal the decision in 2013 and did not do so. Riviere said he would have appealed, given a month to do so, but received the paperwork too late and ran out of time. After several minutes of discussion back and forth, Druhan closed the hearing and no official decision was made.
Riviere told the pension board two doctors and Mobile County Circuit Judge Roderick Stout found him “100 percent disabled,” which disputes the 2013 board ruling that Riviere “does suffer from depression and panic disorders, but none of that is attributable to his job-related injury.” The ruling stated his depression dated back to 2007.
The order further stated Riviere “refused to follow the repeated advice of his medical service providers that he seek psychiatric help” and if he had, his condition could have improved.
Riviere said he never refused help. Instead, he said he was twice kicked out of a doctor’s office for attempting to record the conversation to aid his poor memory.
The legal battle, which has spanned years and several different city attorneys, has cost Riviere everything, he said. In August 2010, after losing his MPD pay, Riviere and his wife lost their home and many of their possessions.
“We were on the streets,” Riviere said. “It was me, my wife and my son out on the streets. We had nothing.”
The family moved to Virginia to live with Riviere’s daughter shortly afterward, before moving back. He said he was involuntarily resigned while he was in Virginia. Riviere said he thought he was just awaiting a board hearing on his disability when he was resigned. He said it was just months before he was to become eligible to retire.
Among the evidence Riviere had hoped to present to the board last week was his initial application for disability retirement, notarized on Jan. 14, 2010. The application wasn’t forwarded to the pension board until September 2011. Riviere said he was told his paperwork was lost.
In a letter to Riviere’s attorney at the time, then-Mayor Sam Jones wrote the city had tried to reach the former police officer because he had not reported to work since “his authorized absent with leave period concluded” on Feb. 1, 2011. Riviere was deemed to have resigned on April 4, 2011.
Riviere said he never received any of these communications and thought he was still awaiting a hearing in front of the pension board. Although the city said he couldn’t be reached, Riviere said his phone number hadn’t changed since he was on active duty.
Pension administrator Mary Berg said the board has done everything it can to accommodate Riviere, including granting him this most recent hearing.
After more than 14 years as a sworn officer, Riviere said he’s not giving up yet. He said he wants his badge back and full benefits.
“That’s what I’m fighting for,” he said. “I’m never going to stop fighting for it.”