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COVID-19 death benefits for local officers raises questions

Posted at 3:18 PM, Jul 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-17 23:22:51-04

City Manager Peter Zanoni said Friday that the city has begun the process of applying for death benefits for Ofc. Charlie "Chuck" Williams and Corpus Christi International Airport Lt. Bobby Almaguer. Both died recently of COVID-19 complications.

He said public-safety management already has begun the process of applying for the officers' benefits, which are issued by state and federal entities, and not the city.

"We have confidence in the state and federal agencies’ ability to process employee claims," he said.

The statement comes after, when recently asked about the officers' benefits, Zanoni said he was unsure whether the men contracted the virus while performing their duties as peace officers. He said that statement was merely a statement of fact, and not meant to imply anything.

"In no way did my . . . comment suggest that we have denied benefits," he said. "In fact, I support all city employees, including our first responders, in receiving all state and federal benefits to which they are entitled."

The statement rattled a local police union.

The Corpus Christi Police Officers Association is concerned that it's a sign that the city is moving away from the presumed-positive policy that the city detailed in an email in April.

“What that basically means is you will be presumed -- if you come down with COVID -- to have received it while on the job,” CCPOA President Scott Leeton said.

If the presumed-positive policy were rescinded, Leeton worries a fallen officer's family might not receive the more-than $800,000 in state and federal benefits he or she is entitled to if it cannot be proven that the officer was infected with COVID-19 while on duty.

“When (officers) step out of the door from the police station to go to work they’re wondering, 'Are we covered or are we not covered?" Leeton said. "Is there presumptive positive with workers (compensation) that if I get sick and have a major issue -- I’m covered or am I not?' "

Zanoni said city agencies are submitting the paperwork to the state and federal governments, and whether or not Williams and Almaguer receive benefits is up to them.

“The right thing should happen," Zanoni said. "We care about our employees. We care about the right processes. And we’re supportive of both.”