Metro-East News

The strange case of Trooper Bradley, who claims PTSD because his boss belittled him

Illinois State Trooper James Bradley
Illinois State Trooper James Bradley gpawlaczyk@bnd.com

For two years, Illinois State Trooper James Bradley worked the night shift, cruising highways around DuQuoin, searching for speeders and drunks while mentally impaired by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Like all cops, he carried a gun on his hip and a pump shotgun in the trunk.

But unlike most cops, Bradley says he has PTSD because his supervisor had it in for him.

State Police Command in Springfield knew of Bradley's mental impairment because of a workers' compensation case Bradley filed in 2010.

Bradley, who is not allowed to make public statements, nevertheless made an exception when asked whether his PTSD made him a danger.

"I am not a danger to the public," he said. A State Police spokesman agreed.

But in Bradley's workers' comp case, something strange happened. His PTSD was not attributed to the inherent violence associated with police work, a relatively common finding in police departments across the country. Instead, it was attributed to verbal abuse and stress caused by his former boss, Master Sgt. Brian Lewis.

At their first on-the-job meeting in early 2008, Lewis called Bradley a "worthless piece of (expletive)," according to a transcript from the workers' comp hearing. At this time Bradley was a 10-year veteran who had been decorated for helping to save a person who attempted suicide.

Lewis also told Bradley he was a "poison pill" and a "liar," according to the hearing transcript. The abuse continued for nine months, according to Bradley.

State arbitrator Edward Lee, of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, awarded $90,000 to Bradley and found he was disabled by 3 percent of a "man as a whole," according to a precise table used by the commission to calculate disability awards.

Lee's ruling probably made Bradley, then 37, the only cop in the U.S. to be mentally disabled by abuse from a supervisor.

A family physician and a psychiatrist testified after examining Bradley, who had complained of blurred vision, constant headaches, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and a decreased sex drive, and thought he must have a brain tumor. Instead, the medical experts stated Bradley's symptoms were symptoms of PTSD caused by his former supervisor, Lewis. A psychologist for the state, who also examined Bradley, disagreed.

"(Bradley) thought he was suffering from physical maladies, and, he was. But, the maladies originated in the extraordinary harassment from his supervisor Lewis," Lee wrote.

"Sgt. Lewis made various derogatory comments which were degrading and humiliating. These started at the time he was transferred into Sgt. Lewis' unit and continued until he left the sergeant's supervision," Lee stated.

Lewis, who denied ever abusing Bradley, according to testimony, politely declined to comment when approached at his rural home in Southern Illinois.

But Bradley never collected on his disability award.

State Police, through the Illinois attorney general's office, appealed, freezing the award, and a three-member review panel in Chicago threw it out a year later. The panel's decision referred to the alleged verbal abuse from Bradley's supervisor as "colorful" but stated that it was doubtful Lewis caused the PTSD.

Bradley remained on the job during the appeal.

The panel's decision doubted that Bradley could still have symptoms six years from the time Bradley first worked under Lewis in 2008 until Lee made his decision in June 2014 that the trooper was disabled.

A spokesman for the State Police said he could not comment on a personnel matter.

During the hearing, Bradley said he didn't know why Lewis had singled him out except that Lewis claimed he didn't write enough DUI tickets and lied about his location on the job when Lewis would ask.

Two other State Police master sergeants testified they didn't have a problem with Bradley when they supervised him and rated him as an average ticket writer, but that initial meeting with Lewis sparked a decade-long struggle for Bradley.

Today, while he officially remains a state trooper, the 46-year-old West Frankfort resident has become an outsider; he's on injury leave from an on-duty accident in February 2016 where he was rear-ended, and is without an income to support a wife and young son.

On April 10, according to a copy of a letter obtained by the News-Democrat, his pay was cut off because he did not go to a physician selected by the State Police for a physical function exam. Records show Bradley insisted on choosing his own physician.

Dozens of websites address the potential dangers of police officers who remain on duty with PTSD. In some departments, the rate may be as high as 14 percent, according to PoliceOne.com.

Hypervigilance was listed as a PTSD symptom that could adversely affect the public by causing an afflicted officer to use deadly force against a threat that didn't actually exist.

Records show that Bradley received some treatment for PTSD.

As for Bradley's remaining on the job for two years after his case was rejected, even though medical experts said he had symptoms of PTSD, State Police spokesman Master Sgt. Matt Boerwinkle said, "Trooper Bradley is not a danger to the public."

In the two years he worked after the state rejected his PTSD claim, Bradley made about $103,000 per year. Out on disability from the car crash, he made $20,400 in salary and $4,000 in disability during 2017 from the State Employees Retirement System.

Back-stabbing?

At the workers' compensation hearing in 2014, Bradley had his police supporters.

Master Sgt. John Wittenborn, who supervised Bradley for about a year, testified that he had, "No difficulty. His activity level wasn't near the top of the pack, but it was acceptable."

Former Bradley boss Master Sgt. Rick Burgrabe testified that just before Bradley went to Lewis' platoon, Lewis asked him about the trooper.

"I didn't have any problems with him as a supervisor," Burgrabe said during the hearing.

"(Lewis) expressed that he had no regard for (Bradley) whatsoever in a professional way. In other words, he thought he was lazy and didn't do his job," according to Burgrabe's testimony.

When Bradley took the stand, he said that Lewis constantly sent him email messages about not meeting his ticket quota — usually two messages a shift. Such quotas became illegal under a 2015 state law.

"I think if you send somebody two or three emails on a given shift about what they've accomplished on that given shift, I think that becomes a form of harassment," Burgrabe stated.

Bradley also complained at the hearing that Lewis failed to provide backup on a potentially dangerous call of an overturned gasoline tanker. The call turned out to be just a burning car.

Bradley testified that during one chewing out in Lewis' office, his boss told him, "I believe in back-stabbing. This is how the State Police has always worked. I believe in a ... you know, basically a hostile work environment, back-stabbing, with troopers not getting along. And this is how it's always happened."

Lee, the arbitrator, referred to the "back-stabbing" comment in his ruling in Bradley's favor.

Facts ignored?

When the Chicago review panel rejected Lee's finding, the favorable testimony of Wittenborn and Burgrabe was not mentioned. Instead, a summary of their testimony made it sound like they did have problems with Bradley.

Wittenborn's testimony was reduced to two sentences. It stated that Wittenborn described Bradley's work as "not exceptional." Burgrabe's testimony that he didn't have any problems with Bradley was absent, as was his testimony that Lewis harassed Bradley. Burgrabe's account of hearing Lewis denigrating Bradley just before Bradley joined his platoon also was not in the review panel's summary.

And the panel may not have known about a memo sent to a Missouri-based psychologist who reported that he didn't believe Lewis could have caused Bradley's PTSD.

In the memo to the psychologist, the state described Bradley as having, "a poor attitude, lack of work ethic and bad-mouthing the department." It arrived before the psychologist examined Bradley.

Michael Korein, a Belleville attorney who specializes in workers' comp cases, said the memo could have prejudiced the psychologist's findings.

"This would be totally tainted," Korein said regarding the psychological exam. "It's telling the doctor what to find."

So the strange case of Trooper Bradley, at least for now, ends with him off work due to a disability other than PTSD — and not being paid, but still being a State Police trooper.

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625
Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570
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