Scott County

Lexington pension board again denies retired police officer's request for disability pension

Keith Spears
Keith Spears

Lexington's police and fire pension board voted again Wednesday to deny a disability pension for a former Lexington police officer who was involved in an altercation with a youth soccer referee in Scott County last year.

The actual question before the board was whether ex-officer Keith Spears was eligible to apply for a disability pension, not the merits of his claim.

Don Todd, a lawyer who represents Spears, said Spears would appeal the decision to Fayette Circuit Court.

After the pension board voted 8-2 in August that Spears could not seek a disability pension, he asked for a rehearing, which is allowed under the pension board's rules.

The board voted 7-2 Wednesday to deny the request again. Retired police officer Tommy Puckett and retired firefighter Rock Vance voted in Spears' favor.

The decision came after more than an hour of discussion at Wednesday's pension board meeting. The board — which includes current and retired police and fire personnel and city officials — met for an additional 40 minutes behind closed doors before announcing their decision to deny Spears' request.

At issue was whether Spears, because he had resigned from the force, was eligible to apply for disability. His request was based on an ankle injury he suffered in 2006.

Spears pleaded guilty in January in Scott District Court to misdemeanor charges related to the October 2013 confrontation with a then-13-year-old referee at a youth soccer game. He agreed to pay $403 in fines and court costs, and to donate $750 to the Kentucky Soccer Referee Association, and he apologized to the boy and his parents.

Records indicate Spears filed for disability in March, after he had met with police Chief Ronnie Bastin about the incident with the referee.

Spears then tried twice to delay a disciplinary hearing before the Urban County Council so the pension board could decide his disability case first. Both requests were denied. He submitted a letter of resignation on June 26 rather than face a June 30 disciplinary hearing. He had been on unpaid leave.

Todd, Spears' attorney, told the pension board Wednesday that Spears met all of the qualifications to apply for a pension: He was a member in good standing of the pension fund when he applied for the pension in March, several months before he resigned.

Todd said there were no Kentucky cases that addressed when a police officer may apply for a disability pension. But he noted two court cases in Illinois in which police officers were allowed to apply for disability after they resigned.

Moreover, Todd said, "We have police officers who retire and then come back and ask for disability. That's been approved."

Spears, who now drives a truck, told the board Wednesday that he resigned because the 8-year-old ankle injury made it difficult for him to continue to work as a police officer.

He also said he thought that if he had decided to go through with a disciplinary hearing during an election year, the council would have fired him.

"I didn't want to put my wife and my son through that," Spears said.

Roger Wright, a lawyer for the board, said Spears was not forced to resign.

"We do not know if they would have terminated him," Wright said. "There was nothing to compel him to resign on the day he resigned."

Spears said he suffered the ankle injury while he was a patrol officer in 2006. Spears said he went through physical therapy, and doctors warned him the ankle would deteriorate over time.

Spears said he moved to the property and evidence division in 2012 because of his ankle injury. Property and evidence is not as physically taxing as patrol. But Spears also admitted he never told police doctors during required biannual physicals that he was having problems with his ankle.

Spears, who started on the force in January 2001, requested limited or light duty on March 6, one day before he filed for disability retirement.

Spears told the board Wednesday that he went to talk to the referee after his son's game had ended about some of the calls the referee had made. The exchange became heated, and Spears said the referee went to hit Spears, which Spears said he blocked. The referee and his parents later went to the Scott County attorney and swore out a complaint, he said.

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