WRAL Investigates

Ex-VA hospital officer speaks out about firing

Posted August 6, 2010 2:04 p.m. EDT
Updated August 6, 2010 6:39 p.m. EDT

— A police officer accused of using excessive force on a patient at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham almost two years ago said Friday that the hospital wrongly fired him after the incident.

Officer Peter Maroney said a disruptive patient hit him when he tried to defuse a dispute in the VA hospital on Oct. 28, 2008. He said he doused the patient with pepper spray, but when the man wouldn't move from a doorway, he hit him four times with a baton.

The incident left the patient, who was in his early 70s, with a broken bone in his hand.

"I had to do what I had to do to protect myself," Maroney said, noting the patient had a history of violence at the hospital.

"The guy was just being loud at the time. He wasn't being resistive physically at all," he said. "The next thing I know, when we step into the room, the guy spins and punches me in the face.

"I was assaulted by this guy. We are armed officers. I do carry a weapon with me, and if this guy had gotten a hold of my weapon or struck me again, the outcome could have been a lot worse," he said.

The hospital security video of the incident was released Friday, more than a year after WRAL News requested it.

The video doesn't show Maroney getting hit, but it does show him and another officer jumping back during the incident. Maroney pointed out that the tape doesn't show the incident in real time, but is a series of images taken every few seconds.

According to the VA's investigative report, two witnesses said the patient hit Maroney. One said he took a "straight punch."

Maroney's chief called the use of force on the patient justified, but an investigative board deemed it was excessive and amounted to "patient abuse." Maroney was fired six months later, and the chief was reassigned.

Maroney, who now works for a family-owned company in Fuquay-Varina, appealed his firing, and the case is in arbitration.

"I need to have this settled," he said.

VA officials said they couldn't comment specifically on the case, but added that patient care is their top priority so they were confident the right decision was made.

John Midgette, executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, said he couldn't comment on the case but said that he worries officers can be dismissed without due process when cases look bad, especially on videotape.

Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr., who often hears similar cases on the state level, said they are usually tough to call.

"We try to put ourselves in the position of that person," Morrison said. "Sometimes, reasonable minds can differ on what's reasonable (force). It's not easy at times."

Federal officials never charged Maroney with a crime, but Morrison said that alone doesn't help him in fighting his termination.