ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca police Officer Anthony Augustine says he is grateful the city is offering him a unique retirement package that will essentially ensure that he has healthcare and pension benefits for life.
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But it’s not really what Augustine is seeking. Augustine still wants what he has been asking for since shortly after he was shot pursuing a suspect in West Hill in October 2012: to rejoin the force.
“This was a 2-and-a-half year argument,” Augustine said Wednesday night in an interview about his negotiations with the city. “… I told them: If the city can’t let me return to work, at least I need my health care.”
Because of privacy law, the city cannot disclose what condition is precluding Augustine from working for IPD. Augustine suffered a stroke after the 2012 shooting and told The Ithaca Journal last fall that he had experienced vision loss after the incident.
The city says it simply can’t allow Augustine back on the force given health reasons. Police Chief John Barber, after meetings with doctors, determined that Augustine should not return to IPD duty. The concern is that Augustine could be a danger not just to himself but also to his fellow officers, according to city officials.
But at City Hall on Wednesday, Augustine said that he’s ready to serve — even if some of the requirements say otherwise.
“There’s criteria to be an officer that others can’t meet currently,” Augustine said, noting that he was confused why the restrictions appear to be enforced especially strictly in his case, when other restrictions — such as physical fitness requirements — don’t seem to be as strictly enforced for others.
The city is offering a package that would give Augustine health care benefits for 20 years — which should last well until he is eligible for Medicare — in addition to a state pension that would guarantee Augustine in the range of $42,000 a year for life, according to city officials.
Mayor Svante Myrick turned to a sports metaphor to explain how the city’s hands were tied over Augustine’s fate.
“We’re like the football coach; we have to make a decision based on the health of the player. The player is saying, ‘Put me in, coach, I can do this,’” Myrick said at a committee meeting of the Common Council on Wednesday. “But I feel like we owe it to him to protect him and to protect the other officers who are out there.”
The issue was discussed Wednesday night at City Hall, with the members of the Common Council’s administration committee expressing their support for Myrick’s proposal.
Augustine said the health care options are the least the city could offer if he can’t return to duty. He also stressed that he was grateful for what the city is offering.
“I thought with the circumstances that it was only appropriate that the city offered the healthcare,” Augustine said.
Officials stressed that 20 years of guaranteed healthcare — which could constitute a payout of more than $1 million from city coffers — represented an extraordinary, unique offer. City Attorney Ari Lavine called the agreement “truly extraordinary” and said that it treats Augustine “in extraordinary circumstances.”
“We have never offered this to anyone before,” Myrick said.
But the mayor defended the importance of ensuring that Augustine received healthcare and pension benefits in exchange for his service.
“I think we owe it — not just this officer, but to all of our officers — and what we owe the whole community is a statement that says we will go above and beyond to protect and take care of the people who protect and take care of us,” he said.