Correctional Officer Julie Newlin was found not guilty by a Solano County jury on Thursday, March 26, 2009 of 32 counts of workers’ compensation fraud, insurance fraud, and theft. Officer Newlin is a correctional officer for the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California.
The ordeal began for Officer Newlin on February 26, 2006 when she was injured during a use of force incident with an inmate. At that time, a diabetic inmate who weighed approximately 350 lbs. became agitated and uncontrollable. Several officers, including Officer Newlin went hands-on with the inmate in an effort to control him. The officers were successfully able to pull the inmate to the floor. Unfortunately, the inmate landed squarely on Officer Newlin’s right hand. After the inmate was subdued, Officer Newlin realized that her hand and wrist were injured. She reported her injury to her supervisor and was taken to the medical clinic. From the medical clinic she was taken to the local hospital emergency room where she was x-rayed and placed in a cast. Officer Newlin was then scheduled to visit her primary treating physician in approximately two weeks. From this point, she began a long series of doctor visits through the worker’s compensation system. It is important to note that Officer Newlin’s Sergeant filed a worker’s compensation claim on her behalf, just after her injury.
The InvestigationEven though Officer Newlin was clearly unable to work and for reasons that are not entirely clear, the Department and its workers’ compensation insurance carrier, State Fund, began an investigation almost immediately after Officer Newlin’s injury. It’s unclear why State Fund and the Department would initiate an investigation so early. However, it appears to have been motivated by the fact that Officer Newlin’s partner and roommate were also off of work from CDCR at the same time. Investigators obtained many hours of Subrosa video between April and July, 2006. The Subrosa video shows Officer Newlin doing a wide variety of day to day tasks from washing her car to picking up and carrying her one-year old niece.
The Doctor VisitsAfter her injury, Officer Newlin began a long process of being bounced back and forth between doctors. At first, her doctors concluded she simply had a strained wrist. Those doctors put a cast on Officer Newlin and ordered medication and rest. After the cast was removed, the doctors recommended Officer Newlin use her hand in an effort to regain range of motion and strength.Officer Newlin’s wrist injury had improved in 2-3 months. As time went on, the real injury emerged. Officer Newlin noticed she was having difficulty using her right thumb. Her right thumb hurt, was weak, and unstable. Officer Newlin began seeing more specialized doctors.
Finally, a hand specialist concluded that Officer Newlin had a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in her right thumb and that surgery was required to fix the injury. On December 1, 2006, Officer Newlin underwent surgery where doctors found that she had a grade 3 (severe) UCL tear in her right thumb. The doctor repaired the UCL. Officer Newlin then began the recovery process. Her doctors advised her that it could take up to one year to recover from the surgery before she could return to work. Fortunately for Officer Newlin, she was able to return to work in June, 2007. Throughout the entire process, Officer Newlin strongly argued that she wanted to go back to work as a correctional officer. Officer Newlin rejected an offer of vocational rehabilitation or alternative training for another type of career.
Throughout her injury, Officer Newlin attempted to use her baton and attempted to practice with her own hand gun at the shooting range. The biggest problem Officer Newlin experienced was that her damaged thumb would not allow her to properly use the baton or qualify with her weapons. Once Officer Newlin had her surgery and recovered from that surgery, she was able to use her weapons and was able to qualify at the shooting range.
The defense called Dr. Allen Hassen to offer contrary testimony to the Prosecution’s doctors. Officer Newlin also testified at length on how she hurt her hand. Officer Newlin testified about the long series of medical appointments and surgery. Most important, Officer Newlin testified about duties as a correctional officer and why she could not return to work until after she recovered from her surgery.
Numerous interesting trial issues arose during the course of the proceedings. In particular, the parties fought over whether the jury should be allowed to view the entire Subrosa videotape even though the Prosecution only showed the doctors (and consequently the jury) a few selected minutes. The defense also made a contentious motion for dismissal at the end of the Prosecution’s case under Penal Code Section 1118.1. Superior Court Judge E. Bradley Nelson, denied the defense’s motion while referring to it as a “close call.”
Officer Newlin’s case shows how far some prosecutorial agencies and insurance companies will go to prosecute officers. The Department, the Prosecution and the insurance company spent 3-5 times the value of Officer Newlin’s entire claim in her investigation and prosecution. In many cases the Prosecution forces an under-represented defendant into a plea bargain arrangement where they are required to repay some portion of the worker’s compensation benefits they receive. The lawyers of Goyette & Associates, Inc. view Officer Newlin’s case as yet another example of discriminatory prosecution practices against public safety employees. Fortunately for Officer Newlin, the jury saw the truth. Officer Newlin hopes to return to work in the very near future.