A veteran Newtown police officer who could lose his job for not returning to work after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December says he was so numb after the horrors he saw that morning that he wanted to cut himself just to feel something.
What Officer Thomas Bean witnessed continues to haunt him, he said. Bean shared his story on NBC's "Today Show" earlier this month and appealed to the Connecticut town to keep the promise he said they made to police.
“As the day went on, I saw the most horrible things that a person can ever imagine,” Bean said.
The 12-year veteran suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress, including paranoia, anxiety and fits of crying and has not returned to work since. His doctor wrote a note in May detailing Bean's diagnosis and explaining that the can no longer work in law enforcement.
"It was a devastating day and the effects have been devastating," said Eric Brown, attorney for the Newtown Police Union.
Twenty first graders and six female staff members of the Newtown elementary school were gunned down on Dec. 14, 2012. Bean said he cannot describe the overwhelming emotions he experienced.
“That night, I drank a lot. The next day, I wanted to cut myself because I just felt so numb,” he said.
A friend of his got him into therapy with a psychiatrist, but it provided limited help.
“That helped some, but I still wasn’t able to sleep,” Bean said. “My wife tells me I was crying in my sleep.”
Bean said he has had unexplained outbursts and flashbacks.
“There’d be times, like I’d talking to you right now and I’d be having video of everything I saw playing right there,” he told Savannah Guthrie.
This summer, Bean found out he could be fired. He received a letter stating the town needed to take some sort of action in terms of his employment.
The "Today" show obtained a copy of the letter, which says, “… termination of your employment with the Newtown Police Department is warranted and will be my recommendation to the Newtown Police Commission.”
Bean has been receiving long-term disability benefits, but the town's insurance policy will only cover two years of long-term disability payments. After that, the town would have to pay Bean potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars over 12 years.
Brown believes this is a violation of the union contract. Bean is supposed to get 50 percent of his pay until retirement, he said.
Bean said the town won't allow him to apply for other jobs since he's still technically a police officer, and he can't afford to leave the police department since he has no other source of income and a family to support.
The question now, according to Brown, is what type of benefit is his client is entitled to, and Bean has been offered three “very bad options.”
“If he were to take a retirement now [it] would be a far reduced retirement and wouldn’t be enough to even pay a small amount of bills,” Brown said. “He’s not eligible for disability retirement, and the town knows that, and resignation would essentially leave him financially destitute.”
Brown said the option the town should be pursuing is to provide him with a disability benefit until his normal retirement date.
“Just like they agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement,” Brown said.
Several officers in the department have had to take time off to deal with the mental stress of that tragic event and the Newtown Police Union wants the town to come up with a long-term solution.
“I’m hoping that the town’s going to keep a promise that they made to us,” Bean said. “They promised us, all of us, all the police officers, that if we do our job and something happens, they’re going to take care of us and they are not holding up to their word, and that’s all we want them to do for myself or anybody else that this is going to happen to.”
Bean said he thinks some officers cannot take care of themselves because they are too concerned about their financial situation.
Police Chief Michael Kehoe issued a statement to NBC News that said, “We cannot comment on this matter. I hope you understand.”
NBC Connecticut reached out to Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llodra but as of this publication did not receive a return call.