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Newtown police chief withdraws request to fire officer with PTSD

By Morgan Winsor, CNN
updated 8:13 PM EST, Wed December 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newtown police chief withdraws recommendation to fire veteran officer with PTSD
  • Thomas Bean was haunted by the images of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary
  • Bean could retire in 12 years, but only 2 years of disability was available, union said

(CNN) -- The Newtown, Connecticut, police chief has withdrawn a recommendation to fire an officer diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and haunted by the horrific images of the mass shooting at an elementary school there.

In a December 5 letter to the Newtown Board of Police Commissioners, Police Chief Michael Kehoe said he was withdrawing an earlier "request and recommendation" that Officer Thomas Bean be fired.

Bean was one of the first officers to respond to the December 2012 shooting that left 26 dead, including 20 children. He told CNN that continues to have flashbacks and is left crying some nights by memories of the bloodshed.

"Nothing could prepare you for that," Bean, a 12-year veteran, recently told CNN's Susan Candiotti. "The worst possible scenes you could think of ... because all there was, was horror."

Candles burn next to a lighted tree at a makeshift shrine in Newtown, Connecticut, commemorating the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Candles burn next to a lighted tree at a makeshift shrine in Newtown, Connecticut, commemorating the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.
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Bean was diagnosed with PTSD and has not been able to return to work. Six months after the mass shooting, the officer -- who responded to the tragedy on his day off -- was placed on long-term disability, according to Bean and his union.

"That day killed me inside," he said.

Training the brain to stress less

A letter from the police department, obtained by CNN, confirmed that he was "permanently disabled" and could be fired. Bean and his union representative said Newtown could afford to pay only two years of long-term disability. Bean said he has a dozen years left on the job before being able to retire and believes his benefits should continue through his normal retirement date. But the town has refused to arbitrate the issue, Bean said.

"The town no longer intends to fire me," he said. "Instead they have decided to let my long-term disability benefits expire in a year and then move on. I am sorry that I can no longer be a police officer, but I cannot change what happened that day or how it has affected me."

Bean and his union representative intend to file a lawsuit by the end of the month, he said.

"The town agreed with the union that no one would suffer financially from this, but they lied because they are hell-bent on ruining my life through financial burdens, not allowing me the right to work elsewhere and the continuous retraumatization of myself and my family," Bean said.

Bean recently told CNN that he broke down in tears after Sandy Hook Elementary School was cleared. He drank and smoked excessively. He even contemplated cutting himself with a razor.

"I didn't want to kill myself but I wanted to feel something," he said. "Had no feeling, no sensation, no nothing."

Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 20 young children and six teachers in the school before taking his own life -- a massacre that prompted a national debate over tougher gun laws.

Bean said he knew he was in "deep, deep trouble" after entering a store one day.

"I looked at everyone in that store like they was going to kill me," he said. "I could not get out of that store fast enough. I looked around, and there was a crowd of people, and all I saw were flashbacks -- (the) firehouse with the families or what I saw that day."

Bean, 38 and married with two children, remains in therapy. He said he is grateful for support from one group in particular, Save a Warrior. Bean urges others suffering from PTSD to seek help.

"The Save A Warrior program that I went through is free," he said. "We even had some law enforcement from LAPD and NYPD go through the program."

Other Newtown police officers were diagnosed with PTSD, but Bean was the only one unable to return to work, union officials said.

"If I had my arm chopped off, they'd would say, 'Oh yeah, he's hurt.' But instead they're like, 'We can sweep (this) under the rug and not necessarily have to pay because ... it's not physically seen.' That's the problem with PTSD ... people don't see it," said Bean, his voice trailing off.

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