Brad Dicken and Lisa Roberson, The Chronicle-Telegram
ELYRIA — Fallen Elyria police officer James Kerstetter has received a posthumous promotion to the rank of sergeant as part of a settlement that ends a lawsuit over how officers were promoted under the city’s civil service guidelines.
Kerstetter’s promotion will be effective Jan. 1, 2010 — two and a half months before he was killed by Ronald Palmer while responding to a disturbance call on 18th Street on March 15, 2010.
Chris Cook, Kerstetter’s attorney, said the promotion will mean that Kerstetter’s family receives higher benefits than they would have had he remained a patrolman.
“This was a really, really good thing to do,” Cook said.
Exactly how much that will be has yet to be calculated, Cook said, but it will be paid retroactively to the date of his death. The family won’t, however, receive back pay for the wages Kerstetter would have received had he been a sergeant while he still was alive, Cook said.
The city also has agreed to pay the city a lump sum of $6,300 for funeral expenses that weren’t covered by insurance.
City Law Director Terry Shilling said the city will have to pay an additional amount of money to the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund to account for the wage difference between a patrolman and a sergeant. The figure has not been determined, he said.
Kerstetter’s family said the promotion is important to them and when Kerstetter is honored this May in Washington, D.C., for the annual national memorial for fallen officers, his name will be read with the rank sergeant.
“This means a lot to us because it meant a lot to Jimmy,” said his mother, Carol Kerstetter. “He didn’t complain about much or talk about much that bothered him, but we know he wanted this because he worked so hard for it.”
The posthumous promotion does not bring Kerstetter back nor does it lessen the sting of his death. Yet, knowing he received the title he wanted makes his family smile.
“My brother just wanted to do his job to the best of his ability,” Kristy Sawyers Kerstetter’s sister, said.
Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely said he was pleased to learn that the deal to give Kerstetter the promotion and settle the case had been signed off on by the city and the Kerstetter family.
“I’m for anything that helps the family out,” Whitely said. “This is something Jimmy wanted. Unfortunately, he had to get it this way.”
Kerstetter sued the city in 2007 after he was ranked third on the list of officers seeking promotion to sergeant.
Kerstetter ranked behind two other officers, Jason Cunningham and David Ross, after taking the civil service test. When the officers were awarded seniority points, Cunningham finished first and received the promotion, which took effect on Aug. 1, 2007, according to court records.
Cook said the problem was that the city’s awarding of seniority points — which included previous jobs held — seemed arbitrary and when he couldn’t resolve the issue with the city he took it to court.
A county judge later ruled the city incorrectly calculated the seniority points and ordered both sides to prepare proposals for how the points should be awarded. Ultimately, Cook said, the judge used the city’s recommendations.
When the rankings were redone, Cunningham came out of top again, Cook said. Kerstetter appealed the decision to the 9th District Court of Appeals, where the case has been for more than a year.
As part of the agreement, Cook said, the city’s new ranking system will be used the next time the city gives a promotional exam.
Cunningham’s promotion won’t be impacted by the settlement, Cook said.
There also had been a dispute over whether the city should pay Kerstetter’s attorney fees in the case, but Cook said he decided to waive payment in the case.