ORLANDO, Fla. - Pulse first responder and former Orlando police Officer Gerry Realin filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Orlando and Orlando Police Department on Friday, seeking damages for alleged violation of Florida's Workers' Compensation Law.
Maitland attorney Geoff Bichler, of the law offices Bichler, Oliver, Longo and Fox, told News 6 that Realin was harassed and intimidated by at least seven Orlando police employees, including Chief John Mina.
Realin was part of the hazmat team assigned to remove bodies from Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. His doctor said he was unable to return to work at the department because of PTSD.
"We feel that the facts are very clear and compelling that there was harassment and retaliation almost from the time Mr. Realin came forward," Bichler said.
In the lawsuit, Bichler included copies of texts and emails that he said will offer strong proof of the “intimidation tactics” used against Realin.
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“Maybe the most shocking is the fact that one of Officer Realin’s superiors followed him to an appointment with a psychiatrist and then essentially tracked him down at a gas station after the appointment to confront him," Bichler said.
Bichler described that alleged incident as “one of the most egregious things he’s seen in 30 years of practicing law."
The lawsuit argues that after Realin filed for workers’ compensation benefits for his PTSD and hypertension, he was "repeatedly harassed, intimidated, threatened with discharge and coerced" by Orlando Police Department employees.
Bichler, a longtime advocate for first responder rights and PTSD legislation, said Florida Statute 440.205 was clearly violated in this case.
Under the statute, "no employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee by reason of such employee’s valid claim for compensation or attempt to claim compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Law.”
In the past, OPD has denied allegations of harassment or intimidation against Realin.
Realin, who was awarded permanent disability benefits by the city last year, continues to receive treatment for PTSD, but he now pays $1,700 a month for health coverage, more than five times the amount he paid before he left the department.
His wife, Jessica Realin, said the lawsuit is not a vendetta, but instead, a move to force the Orlando Police Department to change PTSD policies and medical coverage for all first responders.
“We had all these uphill battles. We couldn't get anyone to give us an answer," Jessica Realin said.
"It turned into an us-versus-them (situation) and they’re the ones that created that situation."
Jessica Realin sent the following statement to News 6 Friday afternoon:
"Today our family has a heavy heart as the City that my husband so proudly served for 13 years has forced us to file suit. We look forward to hopefully addressing out dated policies that allow the city of Orlando & the Orlando Police Department to neglect, harass and discriminate against their employees that come forward when they are injured and need help."
The Realins are seeking in excess of $1 million in damages.
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