Jaime Morales is a hero. He is no less a hero today than he was yesterday, or a year ago when he was shot in the line of duty as part of a joint city-county operation pursuing a serial bank robber.
So, too, Georgetown Police Lt. James Wagoner and the entire team of sheriff’s deputies and police officers called upon to apprehend the suspect on the night of Sept. 11 at a northbound rest area on I-75, are heroes. Wagoner was the commander of the operation.
A lawsuit changes none of that.
The civil lawsuit filed by Morales against the City of Georgetown has upset some, but we should all pause and remember the price Morales paid. He is a 28-year-old man who is now paralyzed and his life is forever changed. Before the accident Morales was active and enjoyed keeping fit. As a young man he has a life expectancy of another 40-to-50 years or more, so he has a right to do all he can to ensure he has a quality of life going forward. Anyone who knows anything about paralysis knows that as the body adjusts to its new reality, other health issues will likely surface.
Let’s look at the financial reality. Morales was employed by the Scott County Sheriff’s Office for only two-and-a-half years, so he was not fully invested in order to receive a retirement from the state. He is currently being paid through workers’ compensation, but that is finite and is about 75 percent of his deputy pay. When the workers’ comp insurance makes a determination Morales has reached maximum medical improvement, he will then shift to long-term disability, through Social Security.
When Scott County makes its budget, a specific number of employees, including deputies, are assigned to the sheriff’s office. The county has a policy — which is much more generous than most counties that limit the duration on workers’ comp to three-to-six months — that an employee can remain for only 12 months on workers’ comp. That’s so the sheriff’s office will have adequate deputies on the road. Morales officially will roll off the sheriff’s employment at the end of this month.
Lawsuits, especially civil lawsuits, typically are filled with sharp, accusatory language, but we must remember they are one-sided and full of “lawyer speak.” We have learned Morales was struck by friendly fire during the incident, but all investigations have concluded it was a tragic accident. The Kentucky State Police investigation could not make an absolute determination who fired the shot that struck Morales. However, Morales’ lawsuit accuses former Georgetown Police Officer Joseph Enricco of firing the fateful shot — and that may or may not be true — but it does not change the fact that Enricco also put his life on the line for our community that night. Even if what the lawsuit alleges is true, in a different but no less profound way, Enricco’s life is forever changed. Remember this operation took place at night and the suspect was wanted in several states, considered very dangerous and multiple officers say they saw the suspect reach for his gun.
Let’s allow the courts to sort this out.
Mayor Tom Prather has made it clear Georgetown has empathy for Morales and efforts have long been under way to take care of Morales long term. Where those efforts stand is unknown, but all indications from city and police officials is they want to do the right thing by Morales. It is our belief and understanding the lawsuit has not changed their opinions. The reason Morales is suing the city is because this operation was a joint project between the city and the county.
For those who are critical of Morales for filing a lawsuit following multiple community fundraisers, again we ask you to pause. Those fundraisers were held because this community cares not only about Morales, but every first responder who serves our community. Despite social media rumors and misstatements made by some public officials, the amount raised by those fundraisers will not come close to taking care of Morales’ needs. When the amount of medical attention Morales has already received is considered, it is possible, if not likely, much of the money raised is long gone.
Now, Morales’ obligation is to himself and his family. Those fundraisers were from the community’s heart with no strings attached.
Morales has every right to do what he is doing. And the city has a right and obligation to defend itself and its police department.
But in the end, this city wants only the best for Morales, and all the heroes who put their lives on the line daily to protect the community we love.