Portland police officer, paralyzed from waist down, stands for promotion to sergeant
Paul Meyer pressed a button on his left wristband, and the black exoskeleton strapped to his body and legs lifted him up from a bench. There he stood, accepting a promotion to Portland police sergeant, less than five years after he was paralyzed from the waist down during an on-duty accident.
Meyer, 47, has beat the odds since his Nov. 19, 2012, accident, when a 110-foot tree snapped and fell on his head and upper back while he was doing ATV training drills with police on a remote part of Hayden Island. The blow cracked his helmet.
He returned to work part time 9½ months after the accident, confined to a wheelchair but working in the Police Bureau’s armory, repairing firearms, researching best police training practices and writing classroom instruction on use of force. About a year and a half later, he returned to work full time, assigned to the training division.
On Thursday, Chief Mike Marshman promoted Meyer to sergeant. He’ll be transferred to the Professional Standards Division, where he’ll be in charge of the Employee Information System, a computerized system set up to flag officers who have excessive use of force or complaints lodged against them.
“I stood up and took the oath,” said Meyer, beaming with a constant smile moments after the ceremony ended Thursday. “To be able to do that again means so much to me. It’s unbelievable.”
His wife, Mary, and two sons, Russell, 15, and Matthew, 12, filmed Meyer’s latest achievement from the first row in the second-floor auditorium of the Portland Building.
Meyer used a ReWalk device, an estimated $70,000 machine covered by the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund, to be able to stand, lean on two crutches and raise his right hand to recite an oath as he and two other officers were sworn in as sergeants.
A police officer from New Mexico who had suffered paralysis had cold-called Meyer about a year ago to let him know about the ReWalk machine. Meyer began researching it. Together with the help of his rehab doctor and numerous practice sessions at OHSU, he became certified to bring one home about a week ago. His wife or sons often stand behind him to spot him as it lifts Meyer to his feet.
Meyer said he wanted to learn to use it in time for the promotional ceremony.
Confined to a wheelchair since the 2012 accident, Meyer now straps on the battery-powered machine, which weighs 50 to 60 pounds. The battery pack rests against his back, cables extend down his legs with knee braces to keep them in place and sensor-laden footplates that fit into his shoe. It’s controlled by a wrist-mounted remote that detects and enhances his movements.
Meyer, who joined the bureau in December 1992, had been a lead instructor on special weapons and an active member of the bureau’s tactical squad before the accident.
He was considering taking the promotional exam for sergeant before he was injured. Afterward, he expected that plan to be derailed until two people — Jim Rice, a deputy city attorney, and fellow officer Jim Dakin – encouraged him to start preparing for the sergeant’s test during one of their visits with him in the hospital shortly after his accident.
“I didn’t even know how to get up out of a bed at that time,” Meyer recalled. “But at least it got me thinking about it.”
He talked to the past chief, Marshman and the city attorney’s office to get the green light to take the promotions exam, consisting of a written test and interviews. He took the test, then Marshman called him about a month ago to let him know he’d be one of three officers promoted to sergeant.
“I can’t explain the feeling, how good that felt,” Meyer said.
His mother-in-law, Jeanne McKichan, said that when Meyer told family members he wanted to stand and walk, they asked him why.
“I wanted to stand and be able to hug and kiss my wife again,” he said. “It’s something you take for granted.”
On Thursday, a standing-room only crowd applauded as the ReWalk machine propelled Meyer to his feet. His wife walked up to the stage, hugged and kissed him.
Later, he demonstrated how he’s learned to use the battery-powered machine to help him walk. His sister took a video as his mother-in-law marveled, “It’s a miracle.”
Meyer has been traveling to other states to talk to other law enforcement about how to move forward after traumatic accidents and the importance of accepting help after injuries. On Thursday, he thanked the men and women who work at the Police Bureau for their tremendous support to him and his family.
Author: Maxine Bernstein
Date: July 6th, 2017