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10 days in the police academy, 14 years on disability

Donald E. Barnes Jr. has been disability leave for 14 years after suffering hestroke police academy. He stands collect more

Donald E. Barnes Jr. has been on disability leave for 14 years after suffering heat stroke in the police academy. He stands to collect more than $1.2 million in disability pay should he retire at 63. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 17, 2012 6:05AM

On his 10th day in the Chicago Police training academy, Donald E. Barnes Jr. went outside for his first physical training class — “a slow jogging exercise.”

It was a hot summer morning exactly 15 years ago. The 30-year-old trainee made it just five blocks into the three-mile jog. He collapsed on Adams near Damen around 11 a.m. on July 16, 1997.

An ambulance rushed Barnes to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with heat stroke and placed in intensive care due to kidney and liver failure.

He never finished his police training, never worked a day as a Chicago Police officer — but, now 45, he has collected nearly $500,000 in tax-free disability payments.

After Barnes used up his allotted year of sick leave, the city’s police pension board placed him on duty disability, citing lingering effects from heat stroke.

He is also entitled to free health insurance for his wife and their two kids, who were born after he went on disability leave.

Barnes, who uses a brace on his left foot and walks with a “slight limp,” according to pension records, collects his monthly disability checks even while working a second job.

In Chicago, police officers are the only city employees allowed to work outside jobs while on disability leave, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

Barnes is among 347 Chicago police officers on disability leave. They stand to collect millions of dollars, mostly for injuries suffered in on-the-job car wrecks and slip-and-fall incidents, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation found.

Barnes is one of two officers collecting disability because of injuries sustained while still in the police academy.

The other, Michael Terrano, injured a knee 17 years ago, underwent surgery, then refused to return to work and was fired.

Despite that, he is getting disability checks that so far have totaled more than $560,000.

Terrano is also in business. He recently was part of a company hoping to sell medical marijuana in Arizona.

Of all the Chicago cops on disability leave, Barnes spent the least amount of time on the job — those 10 days in the police academy, which he entered six months before his father retired from the police department.

Despite not making it through two weeks at the academy, Barnes stands to collect a total of at least $1.2 million from the city’s police pension fund.

He can keep collecting his annual disability payment — which now stands at $46,343 and which will increase as the salary for an entry-level patrolman goes up — until he reaches mandatory retirement at age 63.

Then, he can retire with a full police pension — based on all of his years as a disabled officer.

Barnes, who declined to comment for this story, works as a regional manager for Standard Parking, which operates the parking garages at O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport under contracts with City Hall. In a profile of himself on the LinkedIn job website, Barnes says he has been working for the parking company for nearly 20 years, even before he entered the police academy.

In a sworn statement Barnes filed with the pension board in 1998, he wrote: “Our class was instructed, as part of a physical training exercise, to leave the academy for a running exercise. During this exercise, I suffered heat stroke, causing kidney and liver failure. This resulted in rhabdomyolysis, causing me to be disabled.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, rhabdomyolysis is “the breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is harmful to the kidney and often causes kidney damage.”

Barnes underwent surgery and outpatient rehabilitation but “has had no other treatment or follow-up,” according to a 2010 report from a pension fund doctor.

“He is currently, job-wise, working as a regional manager for Standard Parking,” the doctor wrote. “It is basically a sedentary job. . . . When asked the question if he is able to discharge a firearm, he does state that he quite possibly would be able to discharge a firearm but would not be able to protect the gun” — a requirement for most police work.

Barnes has a left-foot “drop,” which causes him to walk with a “slight limp,” the doctor wrote, and walks with a brace.

Still, he “is capable of performing a sedentary light-duty position” within the police department, according to the doctor.

Barnes lives in Lockport. If offered a limited-duty post at a desk, he would have to move back to Chicago to comply with the city’s residency law.

The same goes for Terrano, 56, who now lives in Naperville.

Terrano had owned a boat-storage facility and a trucking business before becoming a police recruit on July 10, 1995. He was 39.

Seven weeks into his training, Terrano tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while running an obstacle course. After being treated, he completed his training and was assigned as a patrol officer to the 19th District.

While on foot patrol during the Bulls’ NBA championship rally in June 1996, Terrano’s knee swelled, and city doctors determined that he needed surgery.

By December 1996, the doctors decided Terrano could return to work with the police department.

But Terrano refused.

So, on Sept. 19, 1997, the police department fired him, saying he had violated the department’s sick-leave policy.

But Terrano applied for disability benefits anyway.

The police pension board rejected his claim. Its doctors agreed that Terrano, though unable to hold a regular police job, still could work in a limited-duty position.

Terrano sued.

A Cook County judge agreed with the pension board. But the Illinois Appellate Court did not. In 2000, the appeals court ordered the pension board to pay disability benefits to Terrano, finding that the police department had never offered him a limited-duty job.

Terrano, who could not be reached for comment, is getting $48,434 a year, tax-free, in disability pay. By the time he reaches mandatory retirement at 63, he stands to have collected $900,000.

Terrano works as a real estate agent. He has a pilot’s license to operate a single-engine plane or helicopter. He also was part of Globe Farmacy Management Group, a company that had been trying to get licensed to sell medical marijuana in Arizona, records show. He no longer is involved in that venture, according to one of his business partners.

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