Former Tisbury police officer files for disability retirement

Tisbury selectmen hired a consultant for the police department. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Former Tisbury Police officer Kelly Kershaw, who was fired from the department last year amid a flurry of disciplinary hearings, filed a disability retirement application that was recently accepted by the Dukes County Contributory Retirement System (DCCRS) board in executive session. The board’s action came at the conclusion of a standard hearing process in which Ms. Kershaw provided records and appeared before the board, according to DCCRS administrator Kelly McCracken.

Ms. Kershaw, 32, has applied for accidental disability retirement, which requires a diagnosis of permanent disability for eligibility, Ms. McCracken explained in a recent phone conversation with The Times. The disability must be associated with injuries received in an accident or hazardous incident at work that prevents an employee from performing the duties of his or her job.

There was no information available about Ms. Kershaw’s disability. Ms. McCracken told The Times that she was not legally allowed to disclose a medical diagnosis under the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

While working a shift on November 20, 2012, Ms. Kershaw apparently blacked out while driving a police cruiser and struck a tree on State Road, according to a report by State Police.

Her vehicle struck the tree head-on and airbags deployed. Ms. Kershaw was placed on paid medical leave for more than six months.

On May 23, 2013, the day Ms. Kershaw was scheduled to return to work, the town placed her on paid administrative leave, pending a hearing before the selectmen. The selectmen voted unanimously to fire Ms. Kershaw at a disciplinary hearing on June 10, 2013. The cause for dismissal, according to town officials, was that Ms. Kershaw left Tisbury on multiple occasions, for long periods of time, during her scheduled shifts, in violation of police department policy.

Ms. Kershaw joined Tisbury’s police department as a traffic officer in the summer of 2002. In August 2004, she became the department’s first full-time female officer in several years.

In 2009, she filed a sexual harassment claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). In September 2011, MCAD issued a partial finding for Ms. Kershaw but did not support all of her allegations.

Ms. Kershaw did not respond to phone messages left by The Times asking for comment.

Retirement disability process

With the DCCRS board’s determination that Ms. Kershaw’s application is complete, the board petitioned the state’s Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC) to appoint three doctors to an independent regional medical panel to examine her.

“Any candidate needs a majority of the doctors’ panel to come back and say yes, the person is disabled, yes, it is permanent, and yes, it was caused by or associated with an accident or hazardous incident on the job,” Ms. McCracken said.

The regional medical panel will report its findings and recommendations to PERAC, which will forward the information to the DCCRS board. The board then will meet again to review and discuss all of the documentation, issue findings of fact, and then send everything back to PERAC for review by a panel.

At that point, Ms. McCracken said the commission may send final approval of Ms. Kershaw’s application back to the DCCRS board, deny it, or request more information. Ms. McCracken said that the state estimates the process takes six months.

Cost to be determined

How much Ms. Kershaw’s disability retirement will cost taxpayers will be determined if and when her application is approved, Ms. McCracken said. “It’s nothing I can figure out at this time, because I don’t have all of the components,” she added.

Ms. McCracken said the amount will be calculated based on Ms. Kershaw’s salary at her last earnings. Ms. Kershaw was at the top step of the patrolman’s scale, and her base salary was $67,609, according to Tisbury town accountant Suzanne Kennedy.

“The retirement allowances, the deductions, are taken on your regular compensation, that is, the monetary value of your base pay,” Ms. McCracken said. “That doesn’t include overtime or other shifts that police officers often work. You can be making much more than your base salary, but that’s not what your retirement allowance is based on.”

Money paid by a municipality in the form of an assessment towards the retirement system is not earmarked for any specific individual, Ms. McCracken pointed out. “An actuarial evaluation is done, by an actuary hired by the board to take all of that criteria and figure out how much money, if these members were to work their careers in the system and pay into it, would be paid back to them in the form of a retirement allowance, how much would it cost, and how the municipality can start saving for that,” she said.

Many people do not realize that the DCCRS is not actually part of the Dukes County government, Ms. McCracken said, and that the retirement system is autonomous from municipalities. However, according to state statute, the Dukes County treasurer, currently Noreen Mavro Flanders, serves as the DCCRS board’s chairman and ex-officio member.