Amputee testifies in lawsuit against Stanislaus County sheriff

kcarlson@modbee.comMay 17, 2013 

— Retired Sgt. Erik Neuman testified Friday that he was allowed to return to work as a training supervisor for the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department after losing his left leg in an accidental shooting.

In December 2004, Neuman was inspecting a target at a Grayson shooting range when a large-caliber bullet slammed into the leg; a fellow SWAT team member had been reloading a Ruger rifle when it accidentally discharged. Eight months later, the amputee accepted an offer to work as a training division sergeant and later held another desk job supervising patrol before retiring in 2011.

Attorney Stephen Murphy, who is representing Dennis Wallace in his discrimination claim against Sheriff Adam Christianson, called Neuman to testify to show jurors the department had a history of accommodating deputies who had suffered a serious on-the-job injury.

Wallace claims he wasn't given the same consideration from Christianson, elected in June 2006. His lawsuit alleges he was forced out in January 2011 because a doctor concluded he could no longer work as a court bailiff.

The Superior Court lawsuit revealed last year that Christianson and other sheriff's officials used the term "limp, lame and lazy" to refer to deputies unable to work. The first trial ended in August when the civil jury could not reach a verdict.

A new trial, which began Tuesday, will determine whether Wallace is paid for two years of lost wages and benefits. After the first trial, the county granted Wallace's request for another medical examination, which found he was fit for duty, and he was reinstated as a patrol deputy in January.

The county faces other lawsuits from two former deputies who allege they were forced out after being injured.

Les Weidman, the sheriff from 1990 to 2005, testified Friday that Neuman was allowed to resume work because "he was a very valuable member of the Sheriff's Department" and a lot of tax dollars were invested in his training.

Murphy asked Weidman to discuss his philosophy toward injured employees, but his testimony was cut short by a series of objections from the county's attorney, Morin Jacob, which were sustained by Judge Hurl Johnson.

During a break Friday, Murphy suggested that Weidman was more willing to accommodate deputies with injuries than was Christianson. The case is about a "failure to accommodate a disability," he said.

Other testimony Friday concerned an estimate from the plaintiff's expert witness that the county owed $243,000 to Wallace for lost wages and benefits. Forensic economist Robert Johnson of Los Altos said the figure was based on Wallace's earning capacity, including an average amount of overtime and the value of benefits.

Jacob asked whether the estimate should be reduced because of a welfare fraud investigator position offered to Wallace in July 2012, a month before the first trial and five months before Wallace was reinstated as a deputy.

Johnson said the investigator job rejected by Wallace was not a comparable position and should not be a factor. He acknowledged the $28.67-an-hour base pay was only a dollar less than Wallace's deputy wages, but he needed to know more about overtime, time requirements or benefits for the job.

He ultimately said that comparing the two positions was outside his expertise.

Wallace also testified regarding his employment background. He talked fondly about his six years as a DARE and school resource officer, leading youth activities and taking kids to Oakland A's games. Getting reassigned to work as a bailiff was a shock, he said, but before long he enjoyed serving in the courts.

Court testimony has detailed Wallace's injury-

riddled career with the department. Between 2002 and 2008, he suffered injuries on six occasions to the head, face, neck, shoulder, ribs, knee and ankle. Jacob has said the plaintiff filed 15 claims for worker compensation in 16 years and has unresolved injury claims.

Based on an examination in fall 2010, orthopedic surgeon Richard Baker of Oakland concluded Wallace could not work as a deputy because of chronic problems in multiple body parts. The trial is set to resume Tuesday.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or (209) 578-2321.

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