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Widow of slain Federal Way police officer outraged at city following suit settlement
Renee Maher recalls putting her hand on the tinted window of the limousine.
As she looked out at the 11-mile procession, two fire trucks crossed elevated ladders, forming an arch over Pacific Highway in honor of her husband Patrick.
He was the first Federal Way police officer killed in the line of duty on Aug. 2, 2003.
In his honor, city officials named a police training room after him and placed a basalt boulder memorial with his badge in front of City Hall.
But nearly 11 years later, Renee Maher is outraged at the city over her husband’s insurance policy that she claims the city should have paid her after he died. She filed a civil lawsuit against the city and Standard Insurance Company in January and on May 8 settled with the city for approximately $88,000.
“You can tell a lot about a person, not by their words, but by their actions and these were not the actions of a city that reveres Patrick,” Renee Maher told the Mirror. “You can put his face on a wall and tell people that you revere him, but it’s how you treat his family after he’s gone that really tells you what the city truly believes the value of their officers are.”
City officials said Patrick Maher did not submit an application for the insurance at the time he was hired.
But his widow said the insurance policy was a condition of employment based on a collective bargaining agreement between the Federal Way Police Guild and the city. She said it was the city’s responsibility — not her husband’s — to ensure he signed up for the policy and claims the city violated the agreement.
Patrick Maher, 46, was an officer with the Honolulu Police Department before the city of Federal Way hired him in January 2003.
Seven months later, he was responding to a fight between two brothers and one of their ex-girlfriends at an AM/PM in Federal Way when one of the men ran across 272nd Street and tried to climb over a fence. Patrick Maher pulled the man off the fence and during a scuffle, the man, Jason Roberts, got ahold of the officer’s gun and shot him in the abdomen below the edge of his vest.
He was transported to Harborview Medical Center, where he underwent two surgeries and died.
Roberts pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
“We had just moved, we had just bought a house, so I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know anybody,” said Renee Maher, crying. “ … I had signed my will and I was writing a suicide note because the department checked out quickly, while they were telling everybody they were taking care of me.”
Renee Maher, who met her husband while she was a prosecutor in Hawaii, married him 15 months before he died.
“You start sitting there and making deals with God about how long do I have to live with this, can you just give me cancer?” She said. “You start having really strange conversations with God.”
But she “got through it” because of her son Nick, who was 5 years old at the time. He was Patrick Maher’s stepson and she said the two were close.
“It took Nick a long time. We went through a lot of tough times,” she recalled. “I wasn’t really a great mom, I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to lie to anybody else about how wonderful the department had been. I refused to be the dog and pony show.”
But her anger towards the police department shifted towards the city 10 years later.
As she sorted through paperwork for an unrelated matter in February 2013, Renee Maher came across her husband’s life insurance policy that she did not recognize.
“As in shock as I was after Patrick’s death, I remembered all the pools of money that I got because I felt this obligation to be responsible with the money — because I got it as a result of his death — and to make sure that the money that my son received was dealt with responsibly,” she said.
The amount of coverage in this insurance policy, about $88,000, was different from the amount she received from the city in 2003.
She researched the policy and found out that the police guild arranged for a supplemental life insurance benefit to be available to its officers through Standard Insurance Company. The guild was responsible for almost all aspects of administering this policy, while the city was responsible for payroll deductions.
According to the guild’s May 7, 2002 collective bargaining agreement that was in effect during Patrick Maher’s employment with the city, the city of Federal Way “shall provide for mandatory payroll deduction” for the plan “administered by the guild.”
The agreement also noted that the policy is a “condition” of employment for all employees.
But Renee Maher said when she contacted the city’s Human Resources department in February 2013 after she discovered the policy, staff informed her that her husband didn’t enroll in the plan, so the city never filed a claim for him.
City spokesman Chris Carrel said at the time Patrick Maher was hired, the city’s Human Resources department routinely included an application for this insurance in the new officer employment packet.
“In order for the city to set up a deduction from an employee’s paycheck, a completed enrollment form is required authorizing such deduction,” wrote then Human Resources analyst Jean Stanley in a Feb. 21, 2013 email to Renee Maher. “Unfortunately, Patrick apparently never turned in the enrollment form and therefore premiums were not paid, resulting in no benefit from the plan.”
Though Stanley acknowledged that the plan is a mandatory condition of employment, she wrote, “If no process was in place to verify enrollment of new guild members, it would be difficult to enforce.”
Renee Maher said that’s when she realized the “bottom line: Nobody had any kind of procedures in place to determine how people were signed up.”
She filed a claim with the city in May 2013 after she felt the city, insurance company and police guild gave her the “run-around.”
Through a public disclosure request, she also found that Human Resources staff said the guild informed them before Patrick Maher was hired that the insurance plan was optional.
But she said staff “can’t unilaterally change a material term of a collective bargaining agreement, event if [they] are given wrong information; it’s on [them] to verify the information,” she said, noting that she believes the city violated the collective bargaining agreement.
Carrel said that following Patrick Maher’s death, “the city reviewed the status of the applications for all police officers and found that there were others who had not submitted applications.”
The inconsistency came to light two days after his death, according to public records.
On Aug. 4, 2003, then Human Resources director Mary McDougal attempted to determine why Patrick Maher was not signed up for the life insurance policy. She found that the city was making payroll deductions from some officers’ paychecks, but not others.
“I was concerned that Patrick’s enrollment for this benefit may have somehow slipped through the cracks,” McDougal wrote in notes obtained through a public records request.
Carrel said following this discovery, the city took steps to enroll all non-participating officers.
However, “this change came too late for officer Maher,” Carrel wrote in an email.
But Renee Maher said the city took these steps after “they realized, oh boy, we screwed up,” she said, noting staff should have notified her of the change when they discovered that some officers did not submit applications for the mandatory insurance 10 years ago.
She filed a civil lawsuit against the city and Standard Insurance on Jan. 16 in King County Superior Court. She said the insurance company drafted the contract that the guild signed and believes the company knew that her husband should have been covered.
However, she decided not to sue the guild “because as mad as I was at those guys for totally blowing me off after Patrick died, I didn’t want to throw them under the bus. And at the end of the day, it was the city that was mandated to take the premiums.”
Her civil case was then removed to federal court in the Western District of Washington on Feb. 11, as the insurance policy is protected under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).
The city’s attorney Robert L. Christie contended that it was the guild’s responsibility, as the plan administrator, to ensure that police officers filled out the necessary paperwork and submitted that paperwork to the city.
“During an already difficult time, the city did not want to make Mrs. Maher feel badly about the fact that her husband chose not to enroll in this program,” Christie said in court documents.
But Renee Maher said the city’s argument only fuels her anger.
“For them to go that whole time saying that it was Patrick who failed to fill out the form — I’m still mad,” she said. “Maybe he didn’t fill it out, but did you give him the right information? For them to lay the whole thing on Patrick was sickening to me because it was clear that the error was the city’s.”
In the suit, she asked the city to pay the cost of the life insurance plan, plus interest over 10 years, for a total of $105,000.
However, she settled with the city for approximately $88,000 at her attorney’s request.
“In order to address this situation for officer Maher’s family, the city agreed to pay Ms. Maher the exact amount that she would have received at the time of his death had the policy been in place,” Carrel wrote in an email.
But mediation is not about justice; it’s about settling, Renee Maher said.
“I told my attorney, I’m not here to settle this; I’m here because this was part of the value of Patrick’s life at the time of his death. This was the value of Patrick, and not only did [the city] lie to me about it and hide it, they forced me to share the money with an attorney and that seems to be lost,” she said, crying. “It wasn’t an easy decision to settle and I think I just got to the point where I was so tired of being angry, I was tired of feeling betrayed.”
Now, she wants the community to know what she’s gone through.
“If the city had paid me last year, I probably wouldn’t have told a soul,” she said. “I was giving the city the opportunity to do the right thing.”
But as an advocate for survivors and police officers, she emphasized the city has “incredible officers,” including new police Chief Andy Hwang, who she said is the “best thing” to happen to the police department in a “long time.”
Hwang said Patrick Maher’s tragic death had a profound impact on the Federal Way “police family.”
“We have the utmost respect for Renee Maher,” Hwang wrote in an email. “Since the death of her husband, she has devoted her life to supporting police officers and their survivors. For those of us who remain, it is our responsibility to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”