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Koscinski v. Hamilton County Tennessee

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 31, 2014

ROBERT KOSCINSKI
v.
HAMILTON COUNTY TENNESSEE, ET AL.

Session: August 27, 2014

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hamilton County No. 130041 Jeffrey M. Atherton, Chancellor

Stevie N. Phillips, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert Koscinski.

R. Dee Hobbs, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees, Hamilton County, Tennessee, and, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

D. Michael Swiney, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and John W. McClarty, J., joined.

OPINION

D. MICHAEL SWINEY, JUDGE

Background

Koscinski was a police officer with the New York City Police Department for over 20 years. Koscinski retired from the NYPD, and, in 2004, moved to Hamilton County, Tennessee. Koscinski was hired by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in 2004 where he worked as a corrections officer.

Koscinski's tenure as a corrections officer was satisfactory for a period. Koscinski, however, developed misgivings about some of the practices at the jail and his fellow officers, and, to an extent, these misgivings were mutual. Koscinski was moved from one supervisor to another in an attempt to alleviate his concerns. Another issue emerged. Koscinski apparently was of the view that Masons[1] dominated the jail and were blocking his career advancement.

In March 2012, the incident occurred that would spark the course of events setting this case in motion. Koscinski was attempting to search an inmate. The inmate resisted the search, and Koscinski shoved the inmate against a wall in a bid to restrain him. Another officer, Carl Young, intervened and pulled Koscinski away from the inmate. In the process, the inmate struck Koscinski. Koscinski was disturbed deeply by this act of his fellow officer, believing it had lowered his credibility in the eyes of the jail inmates. A few days after the incident, Koscinski spoke to Young about what had transpired. Koscinski told Young that, had this occurred in New York, Young would have been physically harmed for intervening against a fellow officer the way he did.

Koscinski was suspended without pay and sent to licensed counselor Ben Miller ("Miller"). Miller found Koscinski cooperative and engaged him in a number of follow-up visits. Miller did not recommend that Koscinski stop working. Nevertheless, Deputy Chief of Corrections Ron Parson recommended that Koscinski undergo a fitness for duty evaluation.

In April 2012, Dr. Donald L. Brookshire ("Dr. Brookshire"), a psychologist, submitted to the Sheriff a fitness for duty evaluation regarding Koscinski. Dr. Brookshire's evaluation specifically found Koscinski then psychologically unfit to perform his duties. The evaluation noted that Koscinski suffered mild to moderate depression as well as a minimal level of anxiety. The evaluation also noted a clinical profile of Koscinski consistent with serious psychological problems associated with an overcontrolled person who uses denial and repression to deal with conflicts.[2] In June 2012, a due process hearing was held in the Koscinski matter. Dr. Brookshire testified. The following exchange occurred:

Mr. Tidwell: If you can say, is there some way to estimate how long treating the depression would take? I assume that would involve psychotherapy and some sort of medication. But is there some way to approximate how long that might take to deal with that?
Dr. Brookshire: I think that's right. I think it would take medication and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, especially because he doesn't have any real good support system right now, a good therapist would become that support for him and kind of fill that void, or he could, hopefully.
Medication often can, within four to six weeks, if the person is going to be responsive to the medication, and everybody is not, but many people have marked improvement in depression in four to six weeks.
Mr. Tidwell: Can you say whether or not alleviating the depression or modifying it would make [Koscinski] competent to go back to work as a jailer at this ...

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