12/05/2007

Fla. officer who sued family over injuries is fired

By Rene Stutzman
The Orlando Sentinel
Related: Fla. officer injured during rescue sues

CASSELBERRY, Fla. Two months ago, after hundreds of people from across the country voiced their outrage, Casselberry police Sgt. Andrea Eichhorn dropped her lawsuit against the family of tiny, brain-damaged Joey Cosmillo.

It wasn't enough to save her job.

On Tuesday, the Casselberry Police Department fired her.

Her suit, filed Oct. 1 and abandoned Oct. 12, brought public ridicule to the agency, according to a memo from police Chief John Pavlis. It damaged the city's image and made people question whether they, too, might get sued by officers responding to 911 calls.

Eichhorn got what she deserved, said Richard Cosmillo, the boy's grandfather and guardian.

If she hadn't filed suit, he said Tuesday evening, "she wouldn't have been fired, would she?"

Police spokesman Lt. Dennis Stewart would not comment.

Eichhorn, 36, of Chuluota, a 12-year department veteran, was not available for comment.

Joey Cosmillo fell into his backyard pool Jan. 9. When his mother found the 1-year-old a few minutes later, he was unconscious and not breathing. She hauled him out, carried him inside and called 911. She told the 911 operator she thought her son was dead.

Eichhorn was the third rescuer at the house. She slipped and fell in a puddle of water in the hallway, near where officers were performing CPR.

She didn't see the water, she told police Lt. Ralph Mellon, who conducted an internal police investigation into the matter. She only realized the floor was wet, she told him, because when she fell and wound up on the seat of her pants, they got wet.

Later that day, she had a co-worker drive her to an emergency outpatient clinic. Doctors concluded she had broken a kneecap.

The city or its insurer covered all her medical bills, and although she missed two months of work, she didn't lose a single day's pay, according to the internal investigation.

Eichhorn sued because she was afraid she might wind up disabled, the city's insurer might reject her claims or that she would become a burden to her family, she told the department.

She and her attorney, David Heil, had tried for months to get money from the Cosmillos, but the family had ignored her claim, so on Oct. 1 she filed suit in state circuit court in Sanford, accusing the family of negligence.

The Orlando Sentinel published an article Oct. 10, and the outcry was immediate. The police department and city offices were inundated during the next several days with calls and e-mail from people outraged by the suit.

Judi Romboli, executive assistant to Casselberry's city manager, told Mellon that in her 14 years on the job, she had never had to deal with anything like it.

"No, nothing. This was the worst," she said.

Eichhorn was in tears and went home sick the day the article appeared, according to the investigative report. She stayed home the next day.

That same day, Pavlis placed her on a paid leave of absence and called for the internal investigation. Mellon completed it three weeks ago, concluding Eichhorn had violated several department policies, including damaging the department's image and filing suit without giving the police chief advance written notice.

On Nov. 19, Pavlis took away her badge and weapon, telling her he intended to fire her. She asked for a review and got it, but it did no good. On Tuesday, Pavlis fired her.

Eichhorn has 10 days to appeal.

Joey Cosmillo, now 2, suffered severe brain damage that day in the pool. He now lives in a home for profoundly handicapped children, unable to breathe or swallow on his own. His grandfather is hoping for a miracle.

"I don't want my Joey to live the way he's living for the rest of his life," he said. "I need my Joey to live and breathe the way other kids do."

Copyright 2007 Orlando Sentinel

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