MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Bellevue police guild slams city response to officer’s on-duty injury

Mar 6, 2024, 8:07 PM | Updated: Mar 8, 2024, 1:05 pm

Images: At left, Bellevue Police Department Officer Kevin Bereta is seen in his uniform. At right, ...

At left, Bellevue Police Department Officer Kevin Bereta is seen in his uniform. At right, Bereta is seen in a wheelchair leaving a hospital after having an accident while serving on Vice President Kamala Harris' motorcade. (Photos provided by the Bellevue Police Department)

(Photos provided by the Bellevue Police Department)

At a fundraising breakfast for the Bellevue Police Department (BPD) Wednesday, Officer Kevin Bereta accepted hugs and well-wishes from his wheelchair, surrounded by fellow officers in the foyer of the Westin hotel in Lincoln Square. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, as person after person came forward to show appreciation for his service.

Bereta was severely injured in a traffic accident last August, while working on Vice President Kamala Harris’ motorcade during her visit to Seattle.

What happened in August 2023: Bellevue officer fell 60 feet while serving on Harris’ motorcade

“Officers get injured all the time, they get shot, they get broken legs, broken wrists. It’s a dangerous job,” Villette Nolon, president of the Bellevue Police Foundation, said. “But (there has) never been an officer who survived the number of injuries that Kevin survived when he fell off that bridge. I mean, it’s miraculous to think that he’s even alive at all.”

But Bereta’s situation has now generated turmoil between the Bellevue Police Officers’ Guild (BPOG) and the city of Bellevue. The guild has now accused the city of “nonchalant” treatment of one of its own officers, one hurt in the line of duty.

Officers’ guild blasts city for cutting health benefits

“Though Kevin has been making steady and impressive progress with his healing and recovery, the City of Bellevue terminated his supplemental financial support and medical, dental and vision benefits for himself, his wife, and three young children,” the guild wrote in its first public statement Tuesday.

Per the department’s union contract with the city, an injured officer is entitled to six months of general health insurance benefits. For Bereta, it ended on Feb. 29. His medical expenses related to his on-duty injury will continue to be covered through disability insurance and Washington State Labor & Industries policies.

BPD also tried to bring Bereta back to work with “light duties,” including remote work. Under the contract, performing such “modified duty tasks” would allow him to keep his insurance eligibility. But Bereta’s attorney Karen Koehler of the Seattle-based Stritmatter Firm said his primary physician would not clear him. Koehler is representing Bereta, though no legal claims have been filed yet regarding his injuries or insurance status.

“When one becomes a police officer, it’s told to them that the city will have your back. That your employer will have your back through everything,” Bereta told Jason Rantz on KTTH 770 AM. “And then, I almost paid the ultimate sacrifice and I was told, we don’t have your back. We’re not going to pay your insurance anymore. Your family has to figure out how to get insurance. It’s very frustrating to almost die and then have them take my benefits away.”

The guild argued Bereta’s extensive injuries are far from the ‘typical circumstances’ of an employee hurt on the job.

“We believe that the city has the ability to find a solution to take care of Kevin in a way that demonstrates a ‘Commitment to Employees’ by understanding the hazardous nature of his job and the difficulties he faces in this unique circumstance of recovery from such a devastating on-duty injury,” the group said in its statement.

Despite criticism of the city’s actions, BPOG emphatically praised BPD Chief Wendell Shirley, as well as the foundation and other police support groups. It also thanked the community it says has rallied around Bereta and the department.

Bellevue officer nearly dies on duty

“I think it’s safe to say, by the grace of God, he is lucky to be with us today,” Shirley told the crowd of over 300 attending the event in the hotel ballroom.

Image: Bellevue Police Department Kevin Bereta is seen in the hospital recovering after a 2023 accident.

Bellevue Police Department Kevin Bereta is seen in a hospital recovering after a 2023 accident. (Emergency room photo: KIRO 7 | Insert photo: Bereta’s attorney)

On Aug. 15, 2023 Bereta hit a curb, ejecting him from his motorcycle while on the Michigan Street bridge in Seattle. He fell nearly 60 feet onto oncoming traffic on Interstate 5 (I-5), but a driver was able to stop before hitting him. A five-year veteran of the force, he suffered what his colleagues call “catastrophic injuries.” Bereta spent weeks in intensive care at the hospital and required numerous surgeries.

“I can’t walk long distances. I can walk short distances,” Bereta said on The Jason Rantz Show. “If I’m going out and about in the community where I need to be on my feet for a long period of time, I still have to take my wheelchair.”

Following the city’s decision to terminate his health benefits last week, the Bellevue Police Foundation stepped in. It started a fund for Bereta and voted to pay to continue his current health insurance plan for 10 more months under the federal COBRA program. As of Wednesday, the fund had raised $32,000, according to Nolon. She told KIRO Newsradio if Bereta is still unable to work by that point, she is confident they will continue assisting him and his family.

But BPOG said such actions should not be necessary.

“As law enforcement officers, we are willing to sacrifice everything for those we serve. It is incredibly hurtful to all Bellevue officers to watch Kevin, who has suffered such a severe on-duty injury, be treated in such a nonchalant manner,” the guild wrote.

More from Kate Stone: Seattle arrest prompts concerns of ‘serial killer’ targeting homeless

Recent tragedy for BPD

Image: Bellevue Police Foundation's 15th Annual "Bold for the Blue" breakfast fundraiser occurred on Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2024.

Bellevue Police Foundation’s 15th Annual “Bold for the Blue” breakfast fundraiser occurred on Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2024. (Photo: Kate Stone, KIRO Newsradio)

The city’s decision also comes after a challenging 18 months for the police department. While the breakfast’s focus was on recruiting new officers, special mention was made of 34-year-old Officer Jordan Jackson, killed in a motorcycle crash on Nov. 21, 2022, when a vehicle pulled out of a parking lot and into his path. It marked the first-ever on-duty death in the department’s 53-year history. Jackson’s mother Helen was in attendance Wednesday.

“We love you. And I know, you know that your son’s sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Shirley told her. “You and his family will always be a member of the Bellevue Police Department’s family.”

For Bereta, event organizers sought to provide cheer amid hopes for his full recovery. That included a video of his time as “Brickhouse Bereta,” a pro wrestler in Portland. The clip of a blond, spiky-haired Bereta stepping into the ring generated chuckles and applause across the ballroom.

Injured Bellevue officer looks to the future

Despite the challenges of his long recovery, Bereta wore a smile on Wednesday.

“It’s been a long road, but I am coming back,” he told KIRO Newsradio. “I will be returning to the department and to service.”

Officer Seth Tyler clapped Bereta on the back as he spoke.

“We can’t wait for that,” Tyler said. “We can’t wait for Kevin to be back.”

For those who would like to donate to the Bellevue Police Foundation’s recovery fund for Bereta, visit this website.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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