A former Detroit firefighter convicted of fatally shooting a disc jockey outside of a west-side bar in 2012 is collecting pension benefits while he is in prison.
And he’s only 37 years old.
Records obtained by Motor City Muckraker show that ex-firefighter Terrill Hardaway will receive as much as $35,000 a year and health insurance for the rest of his life, even as he’s serving three to 15 years in prison for killing 41-year-old Tony Jackson.
Whether Hardaway was even eligible for a pension is another question. On Jan. 26, 2014, just three days before he was arrested for second-degree murder, Hardaway told the department he injured his back while slipping on ice trying to extinguish a car fire.
When he was arrested thee days later, he was placed on leave without pay and never worked for the department again.
Although Hardaway was barred from working while he awaited trial, the Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System did him a big favor in May 2014 by approving his request to be placed on duty disability so that he could begin collecting a pension as part of the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act.
To be eligible for a duty disability pension, an employee must be “totally and permanently disabled for purposes of employment,” according to Michigan law.
The news of the board’s decision was a well-kept secret until earlier this month when Commissioner Edsel Jenkins signed the duty disability pension paperwork, which he said was a technicality to remove Hardaway from the working roster and did not impact the pension.
Jenkins told me he had no idea the Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System approved the pension until recently.
“The pension board did not forward paperwork on Hardaway’s retirement until about a month ago,” Jenkins said in an e-mail. “Whenever a member is granted a pension, the pension board should send notice to the Department. In May 2015 staff in the Chief of Fire Office noted Hardaway’s name on the roster of Engine 40 and that he had been on Leave Without Pay since January 2014 and that he was convicted in January 2015. Calls made to Human Resources informed us that he had received a duty disability. Information requested in May 2015 from the pension board confirmed his retirement and his name was removed from the company roster.”
The retirement board couldn’t be reached for comment over the weekend.
The discovery incensed many Detroit firefighters, who are questioning the convenient timing of the injury and the retirement board’s decision to approve a pension without a more significant investigation into the disability claims. Detroit firefighters routinely work through pain and fatigue because they are getting older and fighting more fires with deteriorating equipment. And they’re doing it after significant cuts to their pension and health care benefits in the lead-up to the city’s bankruptcy.
“It’s insulting. We risk out lives every day so we can protect people, which is what we signed up to do,” one firefighter told me, speaking on condition of anonymity because firefighters are barred from speaking to the media without permission from the commissioner or the mayor’s office. “Some things never change in Detroit.”
In mid-January of this year, a jury found Hardaway guilty of manslaughter and felonious use of a firearm, and he was sentenced to three to 15 years in prison. He’s currently in the West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights and is eligible for parole as early as December 2019, according to the state’s Department of Corrections. He would be 41 years old with pension and health care benefits.
Hardaway, who was making $47,913 a year, received national attention when he was among the featured firefighters in the critically acclaimed documentary, “Burn,” which explored the harsh realities of fighting fires in a cash-starved city with relentless arsons.
Hardaway’s troubles began on a brisk December night at Four Winds Lounge, on the 19300 block of Schoolcraft, where a fight with Jackson spilled into the parking lot and ended in a shootout. Hardaway was shot in the shoulder; he struck Jackson with several bullets, killing him.
Prosecutors said Hardaway incited the confrontation, which was caught on surveillance.
Firefighters are calling for an investigation into the retirement board’s decision. Pensions are funded by both firefighters and taxpayers.
Commissioner Jenkins declined to comment on the pension board’s decision.
“It would be inappropriate of me to comment on the determination of the pension board’s approval of a duty disability,” Jenkins said.
Mayor Duggan’s office said it was unaware of Hardaway’s retirement until earlier this month.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.