More MS news articles for February 1999

Patrolman says work hasn't been impaired

Pittsburgh News - January 31, 1999

By Meredith Raine

A day after the contents of Jeffrey Cooperstein's [Jeffrey Cooperstein] medicine cabinet were revealed to the public, the Pittsburgh patrolman said that his prescriptions Jeffrey Cooperstein in no way impair him from doing his job.

"The medications I take have nothing but a positive effect on my life," Cooperstein, 43, said on Saturday during an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"They make living with multiple sclerosis manageable. They make my judgment better, and they have no negative impact on my ability to perform my job."

A list of Cooperstein's prescriptions became public on Friday during an open inquest to determine if he was justified in fatally shooting Deron Stephen Grimmitt, 32, of the Hill District.

Because he is the subject of investigations into Grimmitt's death, Cooperstein had few comments about the shooting Dec. 21 on Second Avenue during a police chase.

He said only that, "It is a tragedy. It is a tragic situation that was brought on by Deron Grimmitt. You have a mother who lost her son and a police officer on trial for his life. There are no victors here."

While saying little about the shooting, Cooperstein had lengthy explanations about the prescription therapy for his disease.

And he wanted the public to know that he is not the pill-popping monster that he has been accused of being as Grimmitt's death has been scrutinized in the last month.

"I'm a good officer. My record with the Pittsburgh Police Bureau is exemplary," Cooperstein said.

"I have never been called to internal affairs. I've never had a citizen's complaint filed against me. The only things I have are excellent evaluations."

That could change on Feb. 8, when Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht announces his findings in Grimmitt's death.

Cooperstein's attorney, David Trautman, has said that his client fired four times at Grimmitt's car because he feared he would be run over.

However, Curtis Grimmitt, who was a passenger in the car, said his brother never swerved at Cooperstein.

During the last day of testimony at the inquest, questions arose as to whether Cooperstein's medication could have impaired his judgment the morning he shot Grimmitt once in the left side of the head.

Cooperstein, who has been a city patrolman for more than six years, said it is true that he has prescriptions for five types of medication, but he said that none mentally or physically hamper his ability to do his job.

Cooperstein said he was initially prescribed Effexor, an anti-depressant, to counteract the side effects of Betaseron, a medication for multiple sclerosis.

He is no longer taking Betaseron, but Cooperstein said he continues to take Effexon because it helps him cope with the chronic condition.

Cooperstein said he has been taking Baclofen steadily for about a year because it relieves muscle spasms, stiffness and lower back pain.

Naproxen is a muscle relaxant used in combination with Baclofen to reduce the same symptoms of multiple sclerosis, the officer said.

Ritalin is commonly prescribed to hyperactive children, but Cooperstein said it also can be used to eliminate fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis.

"In addition, it counteracts the drowsiness that can sometimes be a side effect of Naproxen and Baclofen," he said.

Cooperstein said he takes BuSpar to alleviate the side effects of steroids that have to be administered when his multiple sclerosis flares up. He said that his multiple sclerosis causes an inflammation of the nerve endings in his brain.

Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. said at the close of the inquest on Friday that it was the first time he heard of Cooperstein's [medications.

Then McNeilly cited a policy that officers must notify their supervisors immediately if they are taking medications that could alter their performance on duty.

Cooperstein said police supervisors knew about his multiple sclerosis and medications prior to Friday's inquest.

Flipping through pages bound in a blue notebook, Cooperstein pointed yesterday to memos from McNeilly and other police supervisors concerning his health.

McNeilly wrote a three-page memo to Cooperstein on Dec. 29 regarding the patrolman's appearance on "Focus on Pittsburgh," a weekly program televised on Fox Channel 53.

In the memo, McNeilly pointed to nine comments Cooperstein made on the show that he believed were incorrect or misleading.

"You stated that you needed to work details, in uniform, to make up salary for the workdays you missed. You stated that your medicine cost you $2,000," McNeilly wrote.

The last paragraph said, "You noted that your medicine was, for the most part, paid due by health insurance provided to you by the City. Once again, it makes little sense to permit you to work secondary employment, while wearing the police uniform, if that ability would cause you to miss even more time from your primary responsibilities with the Bureau of Police."

McNeilly said last night that he was responding in the memo to numerous false statements Cooperstein made on the television program Nov. 15.

"I didn't know if he spent $2,000 on medication. It was my assumption that he was telling another false statement," McNeilly said. "I didn't believe him for a minute because everything else he said was outrageous."

McNeilly said he has a memo dated Jan. 5 that confirms that neither Cmdr. Linda Barone nor Lt. John Healy, who were both assigned to Zone 2 at the time of the shooting, had any idea Cooperstein was on five different medications.

"The only way I could have known about his prescriptions is if he told me, and he certainly never said anything about them," McNeilly said.

McNeilly said if he had known, Cooperstein immediately would have been sent for a fitness-for-duty examination.

Cooperstein produced numerous letters from Dr. Benjamin H. Eidelman, a professor of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh, that date back to June 26, 1995.

The first letter was to confirm that Cooperstein has multiple sclerosis. Others were to explain why the officer had missed days of work. All were presented to supervisors, Cooperstein said.

"It is obvious from the documentation that individuals in the Pittsburgh police administration are providing misleading information to the media," Cooperstein said.

Cooperstein also pulled from his notebook a memo from Barone, which is dated March 12, 1998.

"Be advised that all confidential medical records that pertain to your ongoing illness are placed in a confidential medical personnel file in the Chief's office," the memo states.

Cooperstein said he doesn't go on duty unless he is "100 percent." Because of that, he missed 23 days of work last year - 9 more sick days than he was entitled to.

On the other days when he did work, Cooperstein said he did an exemplary job. In April, Cooperstein said, he made efforts to save a 21-year-old woman in the Hill District while simultaneously apprehending the woman who stabbed her.

Cooperstein said he also was able to save a man who tried last year to jump off the 10th Street Bridge.

Because he has been labeled a sick-time abuser, Cooperstein said, he received no commendations for his life-saving efforts. He also is not permitted to work off-duty police details or go through additional training to enhance his career.

He has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court charging that the city has failed to accommodate his disability.