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A former North Platte police officer has sued the city, alleging he was wrongfully terminated after he sought disability benefits for PTSD, which he developed after taking the life of an armed man.

Rick Harms is asking a federal judge to reinstate his job and award him back pay and benefits, according to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Omaha.

The city has not yet responded to the suit.

According to the lawsuit, Harms had worked as a patrolman with the North Platte Police Department for nearly 10 years when, early March 25, 2011, he shot and killed Marlon Johnson, a 60-year-old man who had pulled two knives on officers in the station's lobby.

A grand jury later cleared Harms and another officer involved of any wrongdoing.

But Harms developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of having to take the life of the armed assailant in the course of his duties as a police officer, his attorney, Glenn Pelster, said in the complaint.

He said the city knew about Harms' disability as a result of an April 2014 psychological report/assessment where Harms was deemed fit for duty "with considerations." The considerations included a qualification that he should be placed on leave if he experienced any difficulty with depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, anger or suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

In February 2015, Harms did, and asked to be placed on leave, which the city granted.

The city terminated him on July 22, 2015, after he failed to return to work after his leave expired, something Pelster alleged the city had automatically extended for others. 

He said by the time Harms was fired he already had asked to be placed on temporary disability, which the city denied; and he had filed a claim with the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court seeking benefits.

Harms also had asked to be reassigned or moved to a light-duty position or to be allowed additional leave.

The city denied those requests, too.

Pelster said after Harms lost his job he went to the Nebraska Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found reasonable cause to believe the city had discriminated against Harms on the basis of disability.

In the lawsuit, he alleges the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and wrongfully terminated Harms. He said the city had failed to accommodate Harms' disability and that it was a motivating factor in the decision to fire him and refuse him additional leave time.

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On Twitter @LJSpilger.


Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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