North Carolina Deputy Fired Without Cause While Out on Worker’s Comp Injury: ‘Nobody Cared’
Robeson County, NC – One major benefit of being in law enforcement is the brotherhood. The camaraderie. The lifelong friendships and strong bonds.
Or at least that’s what happens on TV.
Time and again, when I talk to people as a peer support advocate through The Wounded Blue, I hear how as soon as an officer is injured, they’re completely forgotten about. They’re left to deal with their injuries- mental and physical- like they were never even a part of the team.
I had that very conversation with Scottie Deese, who up until New Year’s Eve was a deputy with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office.
On August 31, Deese, who is also an injured war veteran who served as a combat engineer in the Army, was involved in a collision. He and his partner were stopped to assist a State Trooper on his car stop when a vehicle driving about 90 MPH crashed into the rear of the patrol car.
The deputy who was in the driver’s seat received a broken pinky, while Deese suffered several injuries, to include a concussion, a busted right shoulder, an injured neck and back, and an injured left knee. His biggest injury, besides the headaches from the concussion, is his right shoulder, which his doctor said looks like someone shot from behind with a shotgun.
Deese had so many appointments to go to and wasn’t able to drive, per the doctor’s orders. There was one instance where a deputy “snuck” to drive Deese, but kept is a secret so no one would find out. Other than that, Deese, who is married with five children ages one to 17, was on his own. He ended up taking a taxi to many appointments.
“In the military,” Deese told me, “it’s all about brotherhood. It’s supposed to be like that in law enforcement too. It’s not like that, they don’t care. Nobody cared.”
He said he started to get depressed from the lack of caring from the department, especially by Sheriff Burnis Wilkins, who Deese said he thought was his friend. Not one time during the four months he was out of work from his injuries did Wilkins come to check on him.
Wilkins lives seven houses down from Deese. “He couldn’t go seven houses to check on me,” Deese said. “Seven houses. That’s walking distance, man.”
On New Year’s Eve, Deese was called into the Deputy Chief’s office, who was waiting for him with a letter from Sheriff Wilkins.
The letter from the Sheriff said Deese’s services were “no longer needed.” Deese was asked to turn in his badge and gun: He was fired.
Sheriff Wilkins didn’t even care to show up to do the deed himself.
Deese told me, “How can he say he cares about his community, when he doesn’t even care about his own deputies?”
In North Carolina, the sheriff is able to fire anyone with out cause. However, that’s not true when someone is going through an active workers’ compensation case. Deese doesn’t know why Wilkins fired him, and he doesn’t know how it’s possible that it was legal since he’s still out of work related to his injuries.
Workers’ comp is still legally required to cover his medical costs related to his on duty injury, but Deese is out of luck with everything else- a job, other insurance benefits, being a part of the team, etc.
Deese was going to physical therapy after a surgery, but workers’ compensation stopped paying the bills so the physical therapist wouldn’t see him anymore. He called workers’ comp and they took care of the issue eventually, but by then he had missed three weeks, plus holiday interruptions.
Additionally, his shoulder surgery has to get redone, because the doctor said he “should be” able to lift his arm up by now, which he can’t. He can’t sleep most nights because of his pain.
Deese mentioned his K9, Rex, and how he cared for the dog for over two months without getting paid. The sheriff’s office is supposed to give him extra compensation for this, but they hadn’t. No one would even bring him food for the dog- he had to take a taxi to get to the pick up spot for the K9’s food.
As soon as he asked about the compensation owed to him for caring for the dog, another handler showed up and took Rex. When the handler showed up, he told Deese that he was told by “higher ups” to pick up Rex, because Deese didn’t want him anymore. This could not have been farther from the truth.
Deese is completely defeated over the loss of his career. He said, “I gave up so much, I sacrificed so much to be in law enforcement. I don’t even want to leave the house, I’m so upset. I just don’t get how he could do this to me.”
Sheriff Wilkins was apparently not shy about Deese being one of his best employees. He mentioned how great of a deputy Deese was multiple times. One wouldn’t know it because Wilkins fired Deese without so much of a conversation, but the two were even friends before all of this. Wilkins and his wife own rental homes, and Deese used to work in construction so he helped them with repairs for their rental units occasionally, with no charge.
Eventually, Deese had planned to run for sheriff, once Wilkins retired. Deese said he knew he couldn’t work for the department if he ran for sheriff, but that was so far away he hadn’t even thought of resigning. He did, however, get suspicious that he may have to resign or be fired when the chief deputy started talking to him about Wilkins hearing that Deese was planning on running. Deese said he had told Wilkins, and even his wife in text messages, that he wasn’t even thinking about it until Wilkins retired, out of loyalty to his friend.
“I was loyal to him,” Deese said. “I was always loyal to him. We were friends. Now I’m not loyal to him anymore- I was going to wait until he retired to run for Sheriff, that was always my plan. I thought when he retired maybe he could help me. He’s only there for the money.
“I’m not waiting anymore: In 2022, I’m running for Sheriff. He fired me for no reason; I don’t owe him anything.”
Speaking with Deese, it’s clear that he’s broken on many levels: Physically, and over the loss of his job and even the loss of his friend. “I know all things happen for a reason,” Deese said. “I got little kids I have to take care of. Look what he did to me and my kids!”
If only this type of incident were isolated. This is just one of many examples of how we, as a law enforcement community, need to get better at caring for each other, while on full duty or otherwise.