Analysis: Ex-Minneapolis cops rack up $26M in payouts amid surge in PTSD claims

Since the murder of George Floyd, hundreds of Minneapolis police officers have left the force while claiming post-traumatic stress disorder to seek disability benefits. 

At least 155 officers have received worker’s compensation settlements totaling nearly $26 million, according to a FOX 9 Investigators analysis of city council minutes and police records. Many of those same officers have questionable histories of misconduct. 

Hogtied and ‘disinterested’

Surveillance video obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators depicts a troubling incident involving now-former MPD Sgt. Joseph Will. The video reveals an April 2017 incident where two rookie cops tried to restrain a DWI suspect who was in custody after the man became agitated and began hitting his head against the wall.

The two inexperienced officers placed the man into a "hogtie" with his hands and ankles bound and tied behind his back. A hogtie is an "unauthorized hobbling technique," which is a maneuver that violated Minneapolis Police policy. 

Will was the supervisor on-site at the time; however, surveillance video reveals he did nothing as the unapproved hogtie maneuver was used by the rookie cops. Internal affairs investigators noted in disciplinary records that Will seemed "disinterested" with his arms crossed as he looked up toward the ceiling before he simply walked away. 

Will was disciplined and suspended for 20 hours without pay. He’s also one of a growing list of now-former MPD officers who have recently walked away with a workers’ compensation settlement totaling $160,000. 

FOX 9 analysis

The FOX 9 Investigators analyzed hundreds of city council minutes, police and disciplinary records to identify at least 155 now-former MPD officers who have had workers’ compensation settlements approved. At least $25.9 million in settlements have been approved with an average payout of $167,000 per officer.

Attorney Ron Meuser and his firm, which specializes in PTSD, have shepherded more than 85% of the settlement cases analyzed by the FOX 9 Investigators

His firm declined to participate in this story but Meuser previously spoke publicly about police officers he represents who he says encountered life-changing trauma during the civil unrest. 

"If these individuals have symptoms legitimately consistent with PTSD, it is not safe, in my opinion to have them have to be out on the street," Meuser said weeks after the civil unrest. 

"I can tell you that [the officers] came from all sorts of angles and were at different locations throughout the civil unrest over that time period," Meuser said. "A great deal of them were actually physically inside the third precinct the day that it was abandoned by the City of Minneapolis."

Questionable histories

Amid the surge of officers claiming PTSD, some have been critical of the trend. 

"While yes that was a traumatic event for some police officers, the amount of PTSD from that seems really excessive," said Dave Bicking who is a board member of the watchdog group Communities United Against Police Brutality. 

Of the 155 MPD officers analyzed, at least 95% of them had some form of misconduct claim filed against them. About 12% of those officers were disciplined by MPD brass.

"We do see that many of those officers have a long history of complaints against them and even of lawsuit settlements," Bicking said. "There is much less history of discipline because there's very little history of discipline within the Minneapolis Police Department to begin with."

Former Officer Dustin Dupre is one example. He was charged with slashing a woman’s tire outside a Target in Cottage Grove in 2017 in an apparent ‘road rage’ incident. 

Dupre managed to keep his job and last year walked away from the department with a $175,000 payout. 

Managing risk

Post-traumatic stress is a medically recognized condition. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that the Minnesota Legislature passed a law making it easier to get work-related PTSD claims approved. It removed the requirement that first responders provide proof it actually happened on the job.

In order to claim PTSD, an officer must be evaluated by a city-appointed psychologist. However, an officer or their attorney can still bring in one or two of their own doctors to make an opposing case. The process can be lengthy and convoluted. 

For the City of Minneapolis, agreeing to a settlement sometimes comes down to what’s cheaper – giving a payout or the cost of fighting it in court. 

"The goal of settlement is always to save money for the city in the long run, so the hope is even if we’re paying more money upfront, we won’t be paying more over time," Minneapolis Director of Risk Management and Claims Emily Colby previously said during a city council meeting. 

While an officer’s disciplinary record does not factor into whether their PTSD claim is approved or not, CUAPB’s Dave Bicking still questions the intensity of the process. 

"I believe that the city could be fighting these claims much more effectively. But it's impossible for us to know, because all of this is protected by attorney-client privilege and it's protected by medical privacy on top of that," Bicking said. 

PTSD applications surge

The other telling piece to the story is the sheer number of MPD officers claiming disability benefits through the state’s retirement system (MPERA). 

A month-by-month review of applications reveals a dramatic spike in PTSD claims following the murder of George Floyd and a sizable drop in applications in the summer of 2021. 

About 90% of all disability claims made by MPD officers to MPERA have been PTSD disability claims versus 10% non-PTSD claims since Jan 2019.