When Marin County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Mathiesen lost his life last year, he was the first to die at the hands of a suspect in Marin County in more than a century, but was it in the line of duty? The Marin County Employees Retirement Association has questioned that because technically, Mathiesen was on medical leave at the time. At stake is a death disability pension, $50,000 a year tax-free in benefits for his wife.
"If you are on sick leave, if you're on vacation, if you're just off-assignment, you're still a peace officer," said Mathiesen family attorney Craig Dykman. Among those who run towards danger rather than away from it, duty is a way of life. Mathieson died in July 2011 when visiting a friend's house by request. A man had been harassing her daughter and she wanted advice from a deputy sheriff. While giving it to her, that suspect entered the property and shot Mathieson to death when he confronted him.
The catch, Mathieson had been off on medical leave.
That made no difference to the Marin County Sheriff's Department. 650 officers and 2,000 people attended his funeral. On Wednesday, in a meeting room a few yards away, the Marin County Pension Board, which already approved death benefit funds in a private session, was forced by state law to do so again in public and that's where it got sticky.
An attorney representing employee interests for the pension fund argued that Mathieson's family did not deserve death disability benefits. "He did respond, but he responded as a friend. He came out of uniform without his weapon. In fact, he took no steps, if he were acting in a course and conduct of his employment as a deputy," Retirement Association attorney Patrick Richardson said.
The mere questioning of merit angered Marin County fire and law enforcement agencies. Among them is San Rafael Fire Capt. Greg Geide. "Basically, when you put the badge on your chest, it's unique people that do it. And even though we would still probably act the same day in and day out, it's nice to know you have support," he said.
Ultimately, the pension board voted to grant full benefits. It was one vote short of unanimous. Mrs. Mathieson should begin receiving her benefits by next month.