As regular readers may recall, I served in Iraq from 2005-06. I was an Army Reserve officer at the time. So, I am a bit sensitive to veterans issues. One such case concerns Justin Slaby, a veteran of two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. Mr. Slaby was about to deploy again when he lost a hand in a grenade accident while training in Georgia. He lost his "non-dominant" left hand. That means he retained the hand he primarily shoots with. He applied for and was eventually accepted by the FBI Special Agent Academy. I know simply submitting his application must have been a difficult step for Mr. Slaby. It is hard for disabled veterans to step into non-disabled society, much less compete with folks without a disability.
He attended the FBI Academy, but it did not go well. Some instructors were offended that a person with a disability was allowed to attend the academy. One said, "what’s next, guys in wheelchairs?"
The firearms instructor, however, supported Mr. Slaby and felt he could handle firearms effectively. The instructor, Mark Crider, noted that Mr. Slaby did not lose his dominant hand. Eventually, Mr. Slaby was dismissed from the Academy. A key witness was Agent Crider. Agent Crider’s supervisor, Teresa Carlson, called the firearms instructor into her office. Agent Carlson was the head of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin office. She went into a "protracted dialogue" about why Mr. Slaby should never be an agent because he was handicapped, said Agent Crider. Special-Agent-in-Charge Carlson indicated the FBI headquarters was upset about the lawsuit and that Agent Crider should support the FBI position. Agent Crider felt his career was being threatened. Yea, I am sure it was threatened.
In the lawsuit, the federal judge found that this conversation was intended to sway Agent Crider’s testimony. The judge described the conversation as "wholly inappropriate." See Washington Post report. I think that is tame. Her conversation clearly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII. As a federal law enforcement officer, she should be setting the example, not seeking ways to violate the two statutes.
The jury will hear such a ruling during the trial (now ongoing). See Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report. Now, Agent Carlson has lost her job as head of the Milwaukee office and has been transferred to Washington, D.C. – shortly after she refused to testify in the trial. The newspaper report says she refused to testify at trial, but I am sure that was probably a deposition. That is, she probably refused to testify at her deposition, once she learned the FBI was investigating her regarding her attempt to suborn perjury.
I have to say, I find it appalling that an FBI agent, a representative of perhaps the finest law enforcement agency in the world, refuses to testify in a lawsuit regarding a federal statute, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. If she committed errors, she should have the fortitude to admit to those errors. This is only more true because those errors concern a young veteran who lost his hand defending her and other citizens. I would hope law enforcement officers would recognize such a duty.
Mr. Slaby is still employer by the FBA in a non-Special Agent capacity.
in its motion for summary judgment, the FBI argued that Mr. Slaby could not shoot safely with his non-dominant hand, meaning his left hand which now consists of a prosthesis. Yet, the FBI was also fighting the release of evidence that some Special Agents graduated from the Academy even though they also could not apparently shoot well with their non-dominant hand. The FBI appears to rely on the argument that Mr. Slaby could not safely fire his weapon with his prosthetic hand. Yet, the firearms instructor, Agent Crider, should know more than anyone else how limited or not Mr. Slaby would be. At least in the Army, the firearms instructor is expected to prepare candidates for all scenarios. I find it hard to believe Agent Crider would not have taken all this into consideration.
And, of course, since Agent Crider now appears to testify at the risk of his career, his testimony will be exceptionally credible.
The lawsuit appears to concern what are the true "essential functions of the job." This is a key issue in many a disability discrimination case, these days. Mr. Slaby’s attorney, Kathy Butler, who I happen to know, was quoted as saying people who go off in defense of their country should get a "fair shake" when they return. Yea, no kidding. It is unfortunate that some of us, especially some of us who should know better, do not realize that.