The NYPD is no stranger to being sued by fellow officers. They have had a wide range of lawsuits ranging from sexual harassment to improperly obtaining retired police officers’ phone records. However, in a first of its kind lawsuit filed against the city of New York, a former NYPD officer says he was harassed and discriminated against by the NYPD over his use of medically recommended cannabis made by an NYPD medical division doctor by the name of Dr. Joseph Hederman.
Former NYPD officer Robert Cascalenda retired from the NYPD on September 17th of this year. He filed a lawsuit against the NYPD for multiple counts of a hostile work environment, disability discrimination, and workplace harassment. The lawsuit also has allegations of violations of New York Health law 3369, negligent failure to train, discipline, and supervise employees, as well as negligent hiring practices. Mr. Cascalenda is pursuing emotional distress, compensatory and punitive damages.
Robert started his career with the NYPD back in 2008. While working as part of the school safety task force in 2010, Robert received a sprained shoulder and two fractured shin bones from wrestling a student that had assaulted a member of the staff. Move forward two years to 2014, and Robert began taking prescription medication for anxiety. Coincidentally later that year, he was involved in an automobile accident while in the line of duty. As a result of this accident, Robert ended up with an injured back and neck. Move forward two more years, and Robert was diagnosed with chronic insomnia as well as an anxiety disorder.
Doing what so many people in his position do, Robert turned to the doctors for help. They quickly pulled out their pads, handing him prescriptions for hydrocodone, morphine, Percocet, tramadol, oxycontin, and a plethora of other sleeping and anxiety medications. Doctors gave him this medicine even after knowing Robert was born with a birth defect that increases his chances of contracting pancreatitis. As a result of the molotov cocktail of prescription drugs, Robert experienced regular flare-ups of pancreatitis.
In 2017 Robert was diagnosed with a condition that affects millions of Americans each year called depression. As a result of this diagnosis in 2018, Robert found himself on restricted duty, having his shield and gun removed. Later that year, in 2018, Robert was diagnosed with chronic pain and also treated for Lyme disease. 2019 came around, and Robert found himself in a coma for many days. While in a coma, doctor’s diagnosed Robert with Lyme disease.
After getting out of the hospital, Robert met with his private doctor, who warned him that his body was reaching extremely dangerous levels of prescription drugs. His personal doctor urged him to start weaning himself from these drugs, especially opioids. His private doctor even discussed the option of medical cannabis and ultimately recommended medical cannabis as an alternative for Robert. This is a point when a patient, human being, free American should have the right to access alternative legal medicines to dangerous prescription drugs. Instead of going at the advice of his private doctor, he continued taking the addictive prescription drugs like so many others do. Later in 2019, he found himself suffering from severe symptoms of insomnia and anxiety that led to him having a psychiatric evaluation issued by the NYPD.
Robert eventually contacted a doctor who was part of the NYPD medical division named Dr. Joseph Headerman. Dr. Headerman also informed Robert that his body had reached deadly levels of prescription medication and that he needed to decrease his dependency on opioids immediately. After hearing this from Dr. Headerman and his private doctor, it started to sink in. Dr. Joseph Headerman of the NYPD medical division approved Robert Cascalenda for a medical cannabis recommendation. Robert alleges that directly after his appointment with the NYPD medical division, The Internal Affairs Bureau started surveilling him. He received a random drug test on September 5th of 2019. Six days later, on September 11th Robert found himself in the hospital again due to a pancreatitis flare-up from pills and stress.
After being released from the hospital on September 15th, the NYPD IAB informed Robert he was suspended for 30 days without pay over testing positive for his medical cannabis use. Robert showed his medical cannabis ID card and explained that a doctor from the NYPD medical division approved his cannabis use, but it made no difference. IAB then decided to detain Robert overnight at their office. Robert alleges IAB officers accused him of faking his medical conditions and calling him a hypochondriac during this time. He even said while he was using the bathroom, at one point, an officer opened the door while several others pointed and laughed at him. This behavior was told to take place in front of the IAB surgeon, who did nothing about it, according to the alleged lawsuit.
Robert continued with prescription medication but was also utilizing medical cannabis in order to reduce his dependency on the deadly opiates physicians had been prescribing him for years. In October of 2019, IAB informed Robert he must discontinue his medical cannabis consumption after failing another random drug test. It seemed that the NYPD wanted him to continue the prescription drugs that doctors were telling him would kill him.
The confusion and stress of all of this led to increased panic attacks, and on October 30th of 2019, the worst happened for Robert. He had a severe panic attack that also triggered an asthma attack while on the phone with the 911 dispatcher; Robert stated he was suicidal. From this point, he was taken to a local hospital and put on a ventilator. Robert was in a coma in the hospital for seven days, of which he spent the first three handcuffed to a hospital bed. During this time, he was intubated, resulting in vomiting and aspiration in Robert’s lungs, leading to pneumonia.
Coming from the point of view of anybody on the outside looking in, it would seem like the NYPD is an absolutely horrible place to work for. Not only do countless citizens make claims about excessive force, violence, and harassment by NYPD officers but so do their own. Robert left the hospital on November 21st of 2019 and was also diagnosed as bipolar. So now, we have a bipolar NYPD officer who suffers from anxiety, who was suicidal and hooked on a plethora of dangerous narcotic prescription drugs.
This officer was then recommended cannabis by medical professionals as an alternative to prescription drugs. He then found himself in the hospital over his use of prescription drugs. Shortly before deciding it was time for retirement Robert alleges he was told that he could continue his job if he quit using cannabis altogether and went back to prescription drugs. September 17th, 2020, was officially his last day as an NYPD police officer. Robert put in retirement papers requesting for psychological disability pension.
New York legalized medical cannabis in 2014. Under state law, medical cannabis patients are categorized as disabled. As part of the state’s employment protections for people with disabilities, there are strict employment protection rules that protect individuals, such as Mr. Cascalenda. It’s a sad day to see a public office such as the police department that takes an oath to serve and protect do precisely the opposite of that.
Robert Cascalenda was a member of the NYPD, who was allegedly ridiculed and rejected because of his need to use medical cannabis over deadly prescription drugs. Imagine, if this is the kind of behavior they support in the workplace, what goes down on the streets? Robert Cascalenda was quoted saying,
“I only filled the prescription for medical marijuana after it was expressly approved by the medical division. When I needed the NYPD most, they suspended and stripped me of my health insurance simply because I was prescribed a non-fatal alternative to opioids.”
One would think police officers would uphold the state’s laws, not their own private agendas. But hey, maybe that is why the NYPD has a very long list of lawsuits in the works. Hopefully, Robert will find his justice and a higher quality of life with cannabis outside of the NYPD.
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