MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. - Should an officer who can only see out of one eye be allowed to protect and serve? One 26-year-old man out of Montgomery County says: yes. He’s fighting to at least finish Field Training where superiors determine if he can actually do the job or not.
Growing up in the area, Ryan King tells FOX 5 he always wanted to be a Montgomery County Police Officer. He says he interned with the department and graduated from the academy in early 2021.
His battle has to do with losing sight due to a tumor behind his right eye. King says he’s been in a year-in-a-half-long battle with the county to let him be a full-duty officer.
Reviews done by medical professionals weighing in on the matter say King was determined to have 20/15 vision in his eye, which is better than 20/20. King says he has adapted to the use of one eye and does have peripheral vision.
"Field of vision of at least 70 degrees in the horizontal meridian in the better eye • 120-degree field of vision," is what was noted in a medical assessment.
"It’s horrible. It’s like a golf ball is behind your eye. And my eye would you know water and…so I was just ecstatic I made it through and did well. So, yeah, I was proud of myself," said King, recalling Jan. 11, 2021 — the day he graduated from the Montgomery County Police Academy.
In a photo taken that day, you can see his right eye looks enlarged. King described the eye as being pushed out of the socket. His medical issue got worse as he was going through the academy and soon after graduation, King underwent surgery to remove a tumor.
"When my doctor actually laid eyes on the tumor, he was like, ‘oh wow, you were misdiagnosed, and this was a super, super rare Schwannoma tumor that grew behind your eye,’" said King. "My optic nerve was getting its blood from the tumor, so he removed the tumor and you know, my optic nerve doesn’t get blood supply anymore, so that’s why we think, you know, I lost vision."
Now looking at a legal battle, the county’s police union, FOP Lodge 35, says King is being discriminated against.
The 26-year-old and the union believe a county-contracted doctor inappropriately used guidance from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (LEO), to find monocular vision as a limitation.
Montgomery County Police
The county doctor placed restrictions on King, who says he’s been stuck on desk duty and had his gun taken away after graduating and receiving his badge. He has not been allowed to complete field training, where King says superiors actually determine whether the officer can do the job.
King says it’s remained this way even after at least four specialists — both before and after the county doctor’s findings — argued he should be reinstated.
This past summer, one county ophthalmologist wrote, "ACOEM LEO guidelines state that an officer ‘should’ have binocular vision. I do not see where they state an office must. I interpret this to mean it is preferred but not required for an officer to have binocular vision. In Mr. King’s case, he has re-tested in driving and firearm use under the same conditions that the binocular officers do, and he has qualified easily. In light of this, I fail to see why you would discriminate against him based on his vision."
Dr. Marianne Cloeren, an Associate Professor with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who is also listed online as a fellow with the group that authored the guidelines, wrote in an assessment done this summer: "Information to provide assistance to decision makers. The intent is that the police physicians would use their professional judgment in conjunction with this information to reach an appropriate recommendation. The guidance document is to be used by the police physician to make an individualized assessment and should not be used as a regulation or a standard."
She also added that, "It is my professional opinion that you have adapted to your monocular vision and have demonstrated that you have the functional capabilities to perform your duties as a law enforcement officer. I recommend returning to full duty without restrictions."
Noted in the professional reviews, King says he tried to show he could do the job, going back and scoring 116 out of 120 in target shooting. He also says he passed "EVOC" at night in 1:01 time. EVOC is the Emergency Vehicle Operating Course in which he had to score under 1:12 to pass.
"That’s actually where we see a lot of the rookies fail the academy, is EVOC instructions," said FOP Lodge 35 President Lee Holland, "I know people are going to say, ‘What happens if he gets sprayed in the face with pepper spray?’ What happens if I get sprayed in the face, pepper spray? I can’t see anything. What happens if someone comes up and chokes me from behind? I can’t…Ryan’s going to do the same things as anybody else. He has the same dangers anybody else and he can overcome those just like anybody else can."
FOX 5 asked King what’s been the most frustrating part for him.
"Just, you know how I’ve proven them wrong time and time again and they just, you know, they just double down and won’t, you know, look what’s right and wrong and give me a fair shot," he said.
"I think it’s important for the taxpayers to understand what this county is wasting resources on – to fight a person who wants to be a police officer here. At a time when we’re down almost 180 police officers, we have a county resident who grew up here – who has spent his time here as an intern, that wants to be a police officer who has demonstrated by going to numerous doctors, that he has the ability to do this job," added Holland, who says more money will be spent if they move to 3rd party arbitration.
The FOP Lodge 35 president says an arbitration meeting for November was rescheduled to March.
"We are not able to provide comment or information regarding this officer because of pending litigation. We prohibited from discussing personnel matters or discussing an employee’s medical records," said Montgomery County Police Spokesperson Shiera Goff.
"The County is legally prohibited from discussing personnel matters or discussing an employee’s medical records. We can confirm that Concentra is an occupational medical contractor working on behalf of the County. They provide other similar services to multiple Maryland local and regional human resource departments," wrote a Spokesperson with County Executive Marc Elrich’s Office.
King is also frustrated the county-contracted doctor does not specialize in ophthalmology.
FOX 5 will be sure to follow this developing story.