Former Upstate deputy hopes his struggle with PTSD changes law - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Former Upstate deputy hopes his struggle with PTSD changes SC law

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Shattered glass after Brandon Bentley rolled his patrol car. Shattered glass after Brandon Bentley rolled his patrol car.
SPARTANBURG, SC (FOX Carolina) -

After shooting and killing a man, a former South Carolina deputy diagnosed with cumulative post-traumatic stress disorder was denied worker's compensation.

In October of 2009, Spartanburg County Deputy Brandon Bentley responded to a call to break up a fight on Harrell Drive. Investigators said one of the men involved, Steve Satterfield, threatened to kill Bentley, and Bentley shot him in the chest. Satterfield later died in the hospital. Even though Bentley was cleared on all accounts in the case and the shooting was considered justified, he said it turned his world upside down.

"It's like taking a glass bottle and throwing it up against a brick wall. Your whole life shatters," Bentley said.

He said he had co-workers and superiors telling him to get back on the saddle because all he did was kill a man. Bentley acknowledges that he did it to save his own life, but he can't get past the fact that he didn't intend to kill anyone.

"I intended to stop the threat, but he passed away. But that's somebody's son. That's somebody's father. That's somebody's husband," explained Bentley.

The incident affected Bentley so much that he tried to take his own life three times.

"You get to the point where you're numb, and you want to feel, so you do everything in your power to be able to feel," he said.

Bentley said he was not debriefed or directed to proper trauma counseling by the sheriff's office after the shooting, but he sought help through Post Trauma Resources in Columbia. To be treated, Bentley needed to file workers comp. He turned to the law firm Harrison White, Smith, and Coggins, and Spartanburg attorney Jeremy Dantin.

Dantin took a worker's compensation claim to Spartanburg County and the Association of Counties, which doles out benefits to county employees. His claim and his appeal were both denied.

"It's a very high burden to meet when you're trying to establish what's called a mental-mental injury, which is when you have a psychological injury from something that happens at work that is not related to a physical-type injury," Dantin said.

Bentley's worker's comp claim was pulled to be heard by the South Carolina Supreme Court, where it was again denied. The court said if Bentley wanted financial help, lawmakers would have to rewrite the law.

According to the law, in order for Bentley to have qualified for worker's compensation with a mental illness, what happened to him would have to be considered "extraordinary and unusual." However, South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal ruled Bentley's actions were "within the normal scope and duties of a Spartanburg County Deputy Sheriff."

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright disagrees.

"It's not normal for a human being to take another human being's life. That's not normal," said Wright.

As part of Bentley's denial, Toal recommended lawmakers reevaluate the law.

Former South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent and Spartanburg County Rep. Eddie Tallon cosponsored a House bill that states killing someone should be considered extraordinary, even for officers of the law. He said they should be given benefits like soldiers.

"You don't train to kill; you train to protect and serve," said Tallon. "When you're out practicing, when you're taking fire arms training, you're shooting at a paper target. You're not shooting at a human being."

Tallon's legislative addendum excludes law enforcement from having to prove "extraordinary and unusual" circumstance if they've been involved in the use of deadly force.

The Association of Counties and the Municipal Association of South Carolina opposed changes to the current bill. They said they're concerned about a flood of new claims if bodies pay out worker's compensation to state employees, and they fear opening up qualifications for mental illness reparations could result in fraudulent claims.

Opponents of the change said more claims coming in could have a greater impact on premiums for their insured. Both organizations said the change to the House bill is too broad, and the language, "deadly force," is too vague.

The South Carolina House bill passed in January. Now the Senate version will go through committee.

The Association of Counties and Municipal Association of South Carolina want senators to change the language. If they do, the bill would have to go back to be approved in the House before it could pass.

With the change in the law, anyone seeking worker's comp must still prove their illness with doctors' clearance, just like soldiers.

As for Bentley, he said he still suffers from flashbacks and memories of traumatizing scenes he experienced while serving: taking a man's life, as well as rolling his own police car and having a baby die in his arms.

"Medication helps, but does it get rid of it? Not at all," said Bentley. "It is still a daily battle each and every day that I will have to deal with the rest of my life."

Even though Bentley was legally cleared in the shooting, he never returned to the force. He said he wasn't ready or capable.

"There are times that I do miss it," said Bentley. "There are times I wish I could go back. I'll never be able to work again. My brain won't let me."

Recently, Bentley co-founded "Surviving the Shield," a Facebook group that offers support and resources to first responders who have suffered mentally.

"I will be heard — we — and when I say we, I mean all first responders will be heard," said Bentley.

According to Bentley's attorney, Dantin, Bentley is a martyr. Dantin said Bentley knows he will never see a penny in benefits, but he said he hopes his story will pave the way for others to have a fighting chance.

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