Ex-Cop Hurt By Staple Defends Disability Pay

NEW YORK (AP) -

A former New Jersey Transit police officer who retired on disability in his 20s after accidentally firing a staple into a finger on his non-shooting hand acknowledges a video showing him firing a sniper rifle makes the claim look ridiculous, but says the problem lies with the pension system.

“It’s an all-or-nothing system, which doesn’t make sense,” said Christopher Onesti, who collects a nearly $46,000-a-year tax-free pension. “You are either 100 percent capable of being a patrol officer or you aren’t.”

A doctor wrote on Onesti’s disability application that the injury would impede his ability to fire a weapon and perform other police duties, such as restraining suspects. But on the video, Onesti can be seen firing an Austrian sniper rifle placed on the ground, pulling the trigger and operating the bolt-action lever with his right hand while bracing the stock with his shoulder and his left arm.

The video was aired by a news website funded by the nonprofit Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which has regularly criticized state pension practices.

While still in his 20s, Onesti was ruled totally and permanently disabled after he injured his finger in 2006 while trying to reattach a target at a shooting range in Ocean County during a firearms test. After two operations, he said the injury left him with a weakened left hand and he could not do his job as a patrol officer.

Onesti, who lives in suburban Philadelphia, said he sought other assignments with the N.J. Transit Police but couldn’t get one and had no choice but to retire.

Asked by WNBC if the video looks bad, he said: “Absolutely, it looks ridiculous,” adding that he didn’t think the accident was serious. “It was a staple gun into the tissue of my finger,” he said.

But he reiterated that the injury left him with a weakened left hand, and that he doubts he would be able to handcuff a suspect.

Asked if he thought he deserved the disability pension, he told WNBC: “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a question of ‘deserve.’ It’s, ‘What’s the law say?’”

John Sierchio, who serves on the New Jersey Police and Fireman’s Retirement System, said he would seek to have the disability case reviewed.