Lawyer: City turned back on ex-Orlando cop who has PTSD

By Julie Gargotta, Christina Jensen and Anthony Leone, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Friday, December 08, 2017, 9:53 PM EST

A former Orlando police officer says the city of Orlando and the police department harassed him after he came forward with post-traumatic stress disorder after the Pulse nightclub shooting.

"It really came to a point where we didn't have any choice," said Geoff Bichler, the Realin family's attorney.

"He had a severe psychological reaction, and the city really turned their back on him almost from the beginning."

The beginning dates to June 12, 2016, when Officer Realin, part of a small hazmat team, pulled bodies from Pulse nightclub for hours.

Realin was later diagnosed with PTSD, and his doctor said he could not return to work. The former officer resigned from the police department and was later awarded permanent disability benefits. He continues to receive treatment for PTSD.

Friday's lawsuit alleges that the police department ignored Occupational Safety and Health Administration procedures during cleanup.

But the Orlando Police Department disputes that claim, saying, "We do not believe any OSHA or NIOSH standards were intentionally violated."

It is against state law to intimidate employees who have filed a worker's compensation claim, which Realin did, Bichler said. He said he hopes that the suit will send a message to employers to make sure that workers get the treatment they need for PTSD and to not retaliate against them.

Bichler says that's what happened to Realin. He said the city followed Realin to doctor appointments and was ignoring doctor's orders for Realin.

"The city really turned their back on him almost from the beginning with a pattern of harassment, retaliation," Bichler said.

A message on Bichler, Oliver, Longo & Fox law office's Facebook page posted Thursday night says Realin "was harassed and intimated by at least seven Orlando police employees including Chief John Mina."

Police Chief John Mina is named specifically in the lawsuit.

"The City of Orlando and the Orlando Police Department are committed to the health and well-being of our first responders," Mina said.

"Following the Pulse tragedy, when Mr. Realin was unable to come to work, he was offered counseling and was paid his salary for over a year. At that point Mr. Realin voluntarily requested a full disability pension, which the City granted," Mina said in an email Friday. "As a result, Mr. Realin receives 80 percent of his salary tax-free, plus health insurance, for life. Mr. Realin is receiving all benefits for which he is eligible."

He added: "The City of Orlando categorically denies the claims presented by Mr. Realin."

Attorney Geoff Bichler speaks Friday morning at the Orange County Courthouse, where he announced a lawsuit alleging the city didn't follow proper federal rules for cleanup after the Pulse nightclub tragedy. His client, Gerry Realin, is a former Orlando Police Department officer who was diagnosed with PTSD afterward. (Spectrum News 13)

In March, Realin's wife, Jessica battled for coverage for PTSD-suffering first responders. She said in a video chat Friday that she's hopeful this lawsuit can make a difference.

"We have been honest the entire time. The residents of the city of Orlando and people of Central Florida have the right to know how municipalities treat their employees," Jessica Realin said.

"Moving forward, I'm hoping this lawsuit will address a lot of outdated policies which allow the city to continue to, in my opinion, get too involved in the medical process when you're involved in treatment," she said.

In the state of Florida, first responders are covered for heart disease and hypertension, but not PTSD or other emotional injuries.

"This is to send a warning shot to employers around the state that when their first responders come forward with PTSD claims, they should acknowledge them appropriately," Realin attorney Bichler said.

Bichler is also representing Eatonville Police Cpl. Omar Delgado, who also was diagnosed with PTSD after the Pulse attack. The town council said Thursday night that Delgado will be given his full pension after initially deciding to let him go six months before his 10-year employment anniversary.