By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor
At first glance, the curious contention over the summer of two men that they found Bigfoot in the Georgia mountains is just what it seems to be: two goofballs trying to make a little extra cash and get some publicity in the process. Matthew Whitton, now an ex-Clayton County, Ga., police officer, and his partner, an ex-Clayton County corrections officer named Rick Dyer, claimed that they had DNA evidence that their find was a Sasquatch, when it fact it was road kill stuffed inside a monkey suit and packed in ice.
What Whitton ended up getting for his July stunt was fired, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. That's where this story gets a little more interesting, if you have an interest in risk management and employment issues.
Because at the time of his Bigfoot fantasy thrill, Whitton was off-duty recovering from a gunshot wound to the wrist that he had received on July 3 while pursuing a robbery suspect.
According to a California attorney who defends municipalities from wrongful firing allegations, Whitton belongs to a category of injured employee that is fairly unique. That is, any police officer who has either shot someone or been shot must be considered to be in a delicate state, psychologically speaking.
According to Bruce Praet, an attorney and co-president of the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Lexipol LLC, which provides risk management consultation to hundreds of municipalities, police officers frequently experience deterioration in their performance after they've taken a bullet or delivered one in mortal combat and should get counseling.
"I can't give you empirical data, but there are a number of cases where we see officers who have been involved in high-stress traumatic situations like shootings where you see--not really that you can pinpoint--but you see a noticeable decline in their career path," said Praet.
Of course, the fact that Whitton was trying to lead people into the mountains to stare at iced roadkill provokes questions. And that brings up another risk management point. Should officers engaging in Bigfoot expeditions be receiving the blessings of their supervisors for what is known as a "work permit" to moonlight?
Clayton County officials employed Whitton when it was known he was looking for Sasquatch, which is a red flag. They're not talking now, but their actions leading up to Whitton's firing may end up filling some courtroom volumes.
October 1, 2008
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