MERIDEN — A former city police officer was arrested Monday and charged with workers’ compensation fraud after authorities say he failed to disclose the complete circumstances of a knee injury for which he collected more than $34,000 in disability benefits.
Leighton (Buddy) Gibbs, 54, of 149 Elm St., was arrested by inspectors from the Workers’ Compensation Fraud Control Unit in the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney following an investigation into a complaint filed by the city of Meriden. He denies the allegations, his attorney said Monday.
Gibbs received more than $34,000 in workers’ compensation benefits after he reported injuring his knee when reporting to work on March 13, 2011, according to his arrest warrant.
The investigation revealed Gibbs did not report to doctors or his employer that he had injured his knee outside of work the previous day, the warrant says. Gibbs retired from the Meriden Police Department in 2012.
Gibbs filed an injury report with the police department claiming that he had hurt his right knee at work, while moving between two cruisers in a twisting motion. The reported injury occurred in the department’s Hanover Street parking lot five minutes before Gibbs was to start his 7 a.m. shift.
“When my right knee gave out, I fell to the ground,” the warrant quotes Gibbs as saying.
After being taken by ambulance to MidState Medical Center, he told medical staff he heard a pop in his right knee. He was discharged with a cane. The next day he was examined at an occupational health care center in Hamden and diagnosed with a strained right knee. He was listed as having no work capacity and referred to an orthopedic surgeon, the warrant says.
An MRI showed Gibbs had sustained a bone bruise and an ACL tear. The surgeon indicated that someone with a torn ACL would not be able to walk up and down stairs normally and would present a noticeable limp.
From March 27, 2011, to Oct. 2, 2011, the city of Meriden paid Gibbs $34,058 in workers’ compensation wages and its insurance company incurred an additional $1,898 in medical expenses.
On March 14, 2011, Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette asked the police department’s internal affairs division to investigate Gibbs’ compensation claim against the city, the warrant says. According to city Personnel Director Caroline Beitman, the city will pay a workers’ compensation while a claim is being investigated or disputed.
The internal affairs investigation found that Gibbs attended a game dinner the evening before where he became intoxicated and was seen wrestling with another man on the ground. Gibbs reportedly told a police lieutenant he drank to intoxication and sustained an unknown right knee injury at the event, the warrant says.
A retired police officer told investigators he and a couple of other people helped Gibbs get into his brother’s car so he could be taken home. Gibbs’ wife brought him to work for his 7 a.m. shift on March 13, 2011.
No one witnessed the reported injury in the parking lot and it occurred out of view of the department’s surveillance cameras. At his deposition on July 9, 2012, Gibbs testified he didn’t recall anything that happened at the game dinner after 5:30 p.m., due to intoxication. He didn’t recall when the event ended or getting into a wrestling match. He later testified it was possible he sustained an unexplained right knee injury at the game dinner, and remembered feeling “like you get punched in the knee and you had a sore muscle.”
The warrant also raised questions about why he would be packing his 35-pound gear bag into a police cruiser on March 13, 2011, when he hadn’t been to roll call to learn his assignment.
On Oct. 25, 2013, Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Daniel Dilzer dismissed Gibbs’ claim against the city. Dilzer wrote: “Gibbs injured his knee on the evening of March 12, 2011 when he was so intoxicated he had to be assisted off the ground, carried to his car and driven home. I believe the claimant attempted to stage an injury in the parking lot of the police station and do not believe he injured his knee while placing his gear into a police cruiser.”
Gibbs retired on a medical disability from the department in 2012.
The workers’ compensation fraud unit received the complaint in August 2014. If convicted, the felony charge is punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Gibbs was released on a promise to appear in Meriden Superior Court on Jan. 20.
Gibbs filed a civil suit against the city in February claiming he was forced to retire from the police department for filing a workers compensation claim and for other claims in the past.
Gibbs changed his statement during a federal grand jury investigation into the chief’s son, former Officer Evan Cossette.
Evan Cossette was convicted in federal court of violating the civil rights of prisoner Pedro Temich when he pushed him onto a concrete bench in a prison cell, causing a head injury.
Gibbs initially backed Cossette’s report that Temich made aggressive moves toward Cossette, but later recanted that statement before a grand jury.
Gibbs’ lawyer, Frank Cannatelli, said Gibbs’ doctor backed his account of how he injured his knee, that it was partially injured the night before, but he was able to walk into work the next morning, where he apparently injured it further, Cannatelli said. The doctor testified that if he had torn the ligament the night before, he wouldn’t have been able to walk without assistance.
“I don’t know how they’re going to prove fraud,” Cannatelli said. “Fraud is intentionally lying.”
However, the doctor added that he wasn’t told Gibbs blacked out and may have injured himself the prior evening, according to the warrant.