Wounded Deputy Losing Disability Benefits
By Ben Hall
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- He was hailed as a hero. Lawrence County Sheriff's Deputy Byron Shelton was shot twice while saving a woman's life, and nearly died in the line of duty.
But after struggling through 10 surgeries and two years of medical care, Lawrence County has told Deputy Shelton that his disability payments are ending.
"I did my part. Now it's time for the county to step up and do their part, and take care of the people that take care of the citizens of this county," Shelton told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
He said that his home is near foreclosure, and his children have no health insurance.
Last month, the county sent him a letter saying he had exhausted his disability benefits.
"No job. No severance pay. No benefits from the county. After two years, they have cut me off," Shelton said.
Things seemed different two years ago.
He was honored by people across the state for his heroism.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen recognized him, as did the state legislature and county leaders.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained video that the public has never seen before from Deputy Shelton's patrol car on the day he was shot.
He responded to a domestic violence call and quickly went inside the home.
"It was sort of like the hand of God just took me when I entered that house. I could hear a lady pleading for her life," Shelton remembered.
He went into the bedroom and found a man with a gun to his wife's head.
The man suddenly turned the gun on Shelton.
"At that time, multiple rounds were exchanged between the two of us," Shelton remembers.
"I looked down, and I saw blood coming out of my stomach."
Shelton was hit in the stomach and side. The husband was also hit.
Remarkably, the woman was unhurt and ran outside safely.
Deputy Shelton made it to his car with two bullets in his body and radioed for help.
"I was calling dispatch, and even told dispatch, to get a helicopter because I knew I was hit," Shelton remembered emotionally.
He now suffers from hearing loss, post-traumatic stress and loss of mobility in one arm.
The county admits Shelton is not physically able to be a sheriff's deputy, but county officials say doctors have approved him for other, less strenuous jobs.
"I definitely support him," said Sheriff Jimmy Brown. "I think he was there doing the job he was paid to do."
Sheriff Brown claimed he had no idea that if doctors approved an injured employee for any type of job, including Wal-Mart greeter or envelope stuffer, that the employee no longer qualifies for long-term disability benefits.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked him, "You are the sheriff, and he is your employee. He is left high and dry. Who is responsible?"
Sheriff Brown responded, "I think all of us here at the county, myself, all of us."
The county sent us a statement acknowledging Shelton is a hero, but stated that its on-the-job injury policy provides benefits for two years and states the policy "must be applied equally to all county employees."
Shelton said that policy and his treatment send a message to other law enforcement officers, and it will make citizens less safe the next time there's a domestic violence call.
"Will that officer go into that residence or will he sit in that car and wait on back-up to get there?" Shelton asked.
Shelton said he would save the woman's life again given the chance.
But he wondered if the county has more to offer injured officers than kind words and plaques calling him a hero.
"That heroism is not going to get the bills paid," Shelton said.
Shelton has been working part time as a recruiter at a transportation company.
He said that job does not pay the bills.
The county points to the job as proof he can work somewhere else. The sheriff says there are no light duty jobs in his small department.
- July 23, 2010: Injured Lawrence Co. Deputy Speaks Out
- July 14, 2010: Lawrence Co. Sheriff's Deputy Called A Hero