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Ex-officer loses appeal accusing town of wrongful firing

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RALEIGH — An appeals court judge ruled this month that the town of Wake Forest did not violate state law when it fired a former police officer after the officer submitted a workers’ compensation claim.

The ruling on July 2 upheld a lower court’s ruling that the officer, Brandon Atkins, failed to sufficiently show that his firing was retaliation for his workers’ compensation claim.

The town said the basis for the firing was that Atkins lied to his superior about stomach problems he was having. The police department has a strict no-lying policy, according to Human Resources Director Virginia Jones.

Jones said the town was very pleased with the court’s ruling but declined to comment further, saying the case may be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

“We are disappointed with the outcome and are still in the process of reviewing the decision,” Atkins’ attorney, Chuck Monteith, said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

According to the court’s ruling, Atkins worked as a police officer with the town from February 2009 until he was fired in January 2016. Atkins had worked as a motorcycle patrol officer since 2014.

But in summer 2015, a lieutenant noticed Atkins wasn’t riding his motorcycle every day as he was expected, the ruling said. Atkins told the lieutenant that it was too hot to ride a motorcycle, and the lieutenant told Atkins he must ride the motorcycle every day unless he first gives a valid reason why he can’t.

On Sept. 2, 2015, Atkins was hospitalized with heat-related symptoms after he was riding the motorcycle. He submitted a workers’ compensation claim for his medical expenses.

While in the hospital, Atkins admitted that he lied when earlier he said he wasn’t riding his motorcycle every day because of the heat. Instead, it was because he had stomach issues, the ruling showed.

Atkins claimed he felt fatigue and had trouble doing his job, and was transitioned to a dispatch position. He never returned to work at full duty.

The town’s insurance carrier became suspicious of Atkins’ claimed injuries and the town believed Atkins might be committing workers’ compensation fraud, according to the ruling. The insurance company hired a private investigator to spy on Atkins and his family during a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. The investigator took video of Atkins spending as many as 12 hours a day in the park riding rides, against the advice of his doctor.

After an internal investigation by the town, Atkins was fired for dishonesty. Atkins claimed his firing was retaliation for his workers’ compensation claim.

Jones said there is no legal case pending at this time regarding the workers’ compensation fraud claims.