By James Fanelli DNAinfo.com
A decorated police officer whose heroics on 9/11 saved countless lives but left him an emotional wreck says the NYPD is stiffing him out of retirement money.
Michael Mazziotti, 63, is suing the city, claiming the police department took seven years to approve his on-the-job disability pension for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression — and now it won’t give him the back pay he deserves.
On the day of the World Trade Center attacks, Mazziotti guided scores of office workers from both towers. He watched trapped victims leap to their deaths and carried bystanders to safety as debris from the buildings rained down on him.In the aftermath, he spent days at Ground Zero in hope of finding survivors.
The attacks and the time at the pile took their toll on Mazziotti. He suffered horrifying flashbacks and panic attacks and retired in August 2002 after 32 years as a transit officer.
To cope with the trauma, Mazziotti eventually sought psychological help, according to his lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan Civil Supreme Court.
Citing mounting PTSD and depression, Mazziotti filed for an on-the-job disability pension with the NYPD in 2006, the lawsuit says. Receiving the designation would mean Mazziotti could collect three-quarters of his salary tax-free. Officers who retire with a regular pension receive half their salaries and are taxed.
In his application, Mazziotti’s doctors noted he suffered severe and unremitting PTSD, displaying numbness, sleep disturbance, irritability and survivor’s guilt. But the NYPD’s medical review board repeatedly denied his application, the lawsuit says.
Only after seven years — and Mazziotti’s two legal wins — did the NYPD finally approve him for the designation. In September the department informed Mazziotti that he would get the disability pay, but it wouldn’t be retroactive to when he first applied in 2006.
Mazziotti, who lives in Bay Shore, Long Island, said in the suit that he deserves disability back pay for the last seven years because his condition has not changed since he applied.
Mazziotti “ought to have been awarded [the disability] long before he was, and in refusing to award his pension retroactively, [the city and the NYPD] have benefited financially from their own wrongdoing,” the lawsuit says.
The city’s Law Department declined to comment.
The NYPD awarded Mazziotti 44 citations for exemplary acts during the course of his police career.
On the morning of 9/11, he and his partner, Officer Eric Romero, assisted a disabled straphanger whose wheelchair was damaged as she exited the E train at the WTC-Chambers Street station. The officers took the rider up to her office on the 20th floor of 1 World Trade Center, where she filled out a police report.
Mazziotti and Romero were with her when a plane struck the tower. The two officers helped evacuate floors 20 through 29 of the building. Then they made three trips to 2 World Trade Center to carry injured people to a triage center. When the tower collapsed, the officers rushed people to a nearby building for refuge.
“With little regard for their own lives these heroic officers quickly guided countless numbers of persons to safety,” Capt. Steven Savas wrote in a September 19, 2001 NYPD memo commending their courage. “We the New York City Police Department salute them for their bravery.”
After 9/11, the police department gave Mazziotti a week off, but then had him report back to Ground Zero, where he spent 175 hours digging for survivors and bodies.
The trauma forced Mazziotti to retire prematurely from the department, his lawsuit says. The officer still struggles to lead a normal life, suffering nightmares and feeling anxious in public, according to the lawsuit.
“While treatment has helped Mr. Mazziotti understand the nature of his symptoms and the impacts on his behavior, and while he has received some relief and control over the symptoms, he remains severely impacted by his exposure to the work of his 9/11 responder service,” a doctor wrote on behalf of Mazziotti in one disability application.