On appeal from a Final Administrative Decision of the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Yannotti, Espinosa and Skillman.
Appellant Robert Gleisberg (Gleisberg) appeals from a final determination of the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System (Board), which found that he did not qualify for accidental disability retirement benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Gleisberg was employed by Egg Harbor Township as a police officer. On December 2, 1997, he was dispatched to a local mall to respond to a domestic altercation. Melinda Flores (Melinda) reported that she had been at the mall with her cousin, Elizabeth Rowles (Elizabeth); Melinda's two-year-old daughter; and the mother of her estranged husband, Luis Flores (Luis). According to Melinda, Luis tried to take the child and struck Melinda and his mother. Luis left the mall before Gleisberg arrived.
Gleisberg undertook a preliminary investigation of Luis and learned that several days earlier, he had slashed the tires and broken the mirror on Melinda's car. Gleisberg also learned that a restraining order was already in place. Gleisberg wanted to obtain a warrant to arrest Luis. Gleisberg brought Melinda, Elizabeth and the child to the police station so that he could complete the paperwork required for the warrant.
Thereafter, Gleisberg took Melinda, Elizabeth and the child back to the mall so that Melinda could retrieve her car. Gleisberg rode around the mall area to ensure that Luis was not there. Gleisberg planned to escort Melinda, Elizabeth and the child to the Egg Harbor Township border, where they would be met by the Somers Point police, who would escort them home.
Melinda ran into heavy traffic when she left the mall. Gleisberg told Melinda to take the Garden State Parkway to the Somers Point exit, believing that Luis would not expect her to travel that route. Gleisberg gave Melinda money to pay the toll. Gleisberg told Melinda to wait at the Parkway exit until the Somers Point police arrived to escort her home.
Gleisberg contacted the Egg Harbor Township police dispatcher and asked the dispatcher to notify the Somers Point police of the change in plans; however, there was a delay in forwarding the message to Somers Point. Melinda did not wait for the police at the exit and drove from the toll booth to her home. Luis was waiting there. He fatally stabbed Melinda and Elizabeth before being shot and killed by Jerome Zucker (Zucker), a Somers Point police officer.
Meanwhile, Gleisberg continued to take steps to process the arrest warrant, intending to coordinate Luis's arrest with the police in Atlantic City, where Luis was living at the time.
Gleisberg was told that Melinda and Elizabeth had been killed in Somers Point. Gleisberg said that he initially thought this was a bad police joke.
Gleisberg went to the crime scene in Somers Point to determine if the report was accurate. Gleisberg observed a body that was covered with an emergency blanket. When someone lifted the blanket, Gleisberg glimpsed Melinda's body. Zucker said that the crime scene was one of the bloodiest he had ever witnessed.
Gleisberg felt sick and recalled vomiting immediately after observing the scene. He took five days off from work. He felt extreme guilt, believing Melinda and Elizabeth were killed because he failed to protect them. Gleisberg thereafter went back to work. Others in the police department told Gleisberg to "tough it out" when he indicated that he was emotionally or mentally distressed.
Gleisberg testified that, within six month of the incident, he began to experience symptoms of a mental illness. Gleisberg said that, as the years passed, he had nightmares and flashbacks. He dreamed that the victims were speaking to him. He felt panic when he was called to domestic disputes, and he had difficulty breathing. Gleisberg began drinking to help deal with the stress.
Gleisberg had taken photographs of the victims' graves after their funerals. He kept the photos with him. In December 2003, he took new photos of the victims' gravestones and carried the photos in the pocket of his uniform. When the photos wore out, he had new copies made. In late 2005, Gleisberg showed the photos to a supervisor and was told to seek professional help.
In January 2006, Gleisberg sought mental health treatment. He saw a nurse practitioner, who diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Gleisberg was treated for depression and anxiety, and certain medications were prescribed. In September 2006, Gleisberg went on leave from his job.
In November 2006, Gleisberg saw Dr. Theresa Bell (Bell), a psychiatrist. Bell issued a report dated March 20, 2007, in which she concluded that Gleisberg was suffering from major depressive disorder, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder. She said that Gleisberg should not return to work.
Bell issued a second report dated December 17, 2008, in which she stated that the events of December 2, 1997, were pivotal in the development of Gleisberg's PTSD. Bell noted that Gleisberg had been seen by a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Carl J. Chiappetta ...