MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - At least 200 Minneapolis police officers have left the force in the 14 months since the murder of George Floyd and the days of unrest that followed.
According to a law firm representing many of the officers, the departures are due to mental health struggles such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. One of those officers opened up about his decision to quit a job he loved and how he is now trying to help other first responders who may feel isolated and alone.
"I always wanted to be a cop. From a very young age, I always felt the call, this calling, this sense of duty," said former MPD officer Chris Steward.
Steward fulfilled his childhood dreams, growing up to be a Minneapolis police officer for more than 14 years.
"This was my opportunity to serve the community that I loved and respected. I love my profession. I loved the people I served. I loved the people I worked with," he said.
Steward was so devoted to the badge he fought through the loss of sight in his left eye after something went horribly wrong with an injection to treat a rare condition with his retina.
"Within 36 hours, I went to sleep one night and woke up and I couldn’t see out of my left eye. I was completely blind."
A member of the SWAT team and northside neighborhood patrol unit at the time, Steward reports the department sidelined him, putting him on paid personal leave for months.
But, he wanted to work and insisted he showed he could meet all of the requirements and qualifications of the job, despite the loss of use of his left eye.
His wife, Sam, recalled how frustrating it was as Steward eventually filed an equal employment opportunity discrimination complaint.
"Everything figuratively was coming undone," she said. "He was mad, he was depressed. He was emotionally volatile, and for me to watch him go through that was very difficult."
Steward was eventually allowed to return to work and was promoted to sergeant.
On July 23, the Minneapolis City Council signed off on an $80,000 settlement with Steward from his EEOC discrimination complaint.
Now, Steward is no longer on the force after the murder of George Floyd and witnessing the abandonment and torching of the 3rd precinct, which he watched unfold on closed-circuit TV screens at the 2nd precinct headquarters.
"It was just being in a rage when I got to work. Essentially, I’d rather eat my own gun than go to work. It came to that point. It was that bad. I knew I could no longer do this profession. There was a point it was either this profession or my life, and I had to choose."
Steward said he cracked during an appointment in the immediate aftermath of Floyd's death as he finally opened up to a therapist about his years of policing the streets of the state’s largest city and.
"Hindsight is always 20-20. So, looking back, I’ve been having signs and symptoms of PTSD for nearly a decade, but I was in the fight. I was caught up in work and I was caught up in life and didn’t have the opportunity to reflect on how it was changing and impacting me."
Ultimately, Steward chose his wife and growing family over the uniform. He also chose to help others by launching the nonprofit Heroes Helping Heroes, a foundation dedicated to emergency personnel coping with PTSD and thoughts of suicide. It involves early intervention and support, bringing together police, fire and EMS for fun bonding sessions, including a fishing outing on Lake Superior.
"It’s nice knowing that you’re helping somebody. That’s why I got into law enforcement, to help people, and through this foundation, I think we’re definitely helping people," he said.
In addition to fishing, other group outings include camping, golfing, and horseback riding. Chris hopes to have and serve some 300 members - both active and retired - by the end of the summer.