Captain in pepper-spray case applies for medical disability retirement

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office captain being criminally investigated for pepper-spraying a restrained inmate has filed for a medical disability retirement.

Capt. Judith Sealey filed a disability benefit application with the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), according to documents obtained by this news organization. Applicants are not required to identify a particular disability.

RELATED: Captain in pepper-spray case ‘did not break the law,’ attorney says

A July 11 letter from OPERS to Montgomery County indicated that the form would not be accepted without the employee’s department head and fiscal officer properly completing their sections.

RELATED: County to pay $375,000 to settle jail pepper-spray lawsuit

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer signed his section of the form Aug. 9. The application and decision process by OPERS typically take months.

Sealey is still working, according to the sheriff’s office. She returned to work in May from administrative leave after a Montgomery County grand jury declined felony charges.

“She works very hard at her job. She’s been an outstanding employee for many years,” said her attorney, Anthony VanNoy. “This situation has caused questions about recent employment of how she handled the situation, but I think she was doing the very best she could and what she had in her training.”

MORE: Hefty pensions await fired cops

Results of a federal investigation into Montgomery County Jail operations, including the incident involving Sealey, have not been announced. The Cincinnati prosecutor’s office is considering misdemeanor charges against Sealey, but that process will take “several weeks,” according to Cincinnati spokesman Rocky Merz.

A federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the inmate, Amber Swink, was settled for $375,000 by the county.

MORE: Work problems, then pension

“I am not aware of any injury or new condition she would have suffered since the time she pepper sprayed Amber Swink on Nov. 15, 2015 that would have given rise to any claimed disability,” Swink’s attorney, Douglas Brannon, said in a statement.

MORE: Disgraced public workers cash in on Ohio’s pension system

Sealey checked “No” on a question that asked if the disabling condition was the result of an on-duty illness or injury.

Plummer has said previously that Sealey could face discipline for the pepper spraying after an internal investigation is complete. Discipline would take place after an internal investigation, which is after the criminal process.

The sheriff’s office did not return messages seeking comment.

MORE: Read other stories from Mark Gokavi

This news organization has previously reported that not much is different in the way Ohio’s five public pension systems award lucrative disability pensions since legislators and local officials called for changes.

A 2011 Dayton Daily News investigation found multiple examples of local public employees who received disability pensions despite workplace wrongdoing that cost them their jobs or led to criminal convictions.

“She felt like she didn’t break the law,” VanNoy said of Sealey, who her attorney said was older than 60. “She’s not like some person who is trying to get over on the system. She’s worked there a long time.”

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