For the first time in Los Angeles, city officials on Thursday granted a tax-free disability pension to a veteran police officer who said he was infected by a man he arrested who later died of AIDS.
The Board of Pension Commissioners voted 5 to 1 to award the service-connected pension to Officer Alvin LaBostrie even though board members acknowledged that it was never proved that the nine-year veteran officer tested HIV-positive because a suspect with AIDS bled on him during a July, 1988, arrest.
The sole dissenting vote came from Lt. Ken Staggs, the Los Angeles Police Department’s representative on the commission, who said he was troubled with LaBostrie’s history of sexual promiscuity and past episodes of gonorrhea. He urged his fellow commissioners to delay their decision until further testimony could be heard from medical doctors about how AIDS is transmitted.
“I read the whole record and it wasn’t convincing to me that he got it the way he said he did,” Staggs said in an interview, adding that he was worried the board’s action could have wide implications on how police officials deal with AIDS cases.
Staggs said he was equally concerned that LaBostrie’s case will make it easier for gay officers to falsely claim that they contracted AIDS on the job.
However, LaBostrie, who has not denied his past problems with other sexually transmitted diseases, has not wavered from his insistence that he was infected when the drug suspect, who was screaming that he had AIDS and hepatitis, bled on an open wound in LaBostrie’s hand.
The board’s action marks the first time that a Los Angeles-area law enforcement officer has received a job-related disability pension because of AIDS, officials said.
The 40-year-old LaBostrie was given a minimum pension of $1,116 a month, or 30% of his salary. “I don’t think it’s much,” he said, adding that he may go to court for a larger amount. “But I am pleased I got a decision.”
In approving the pension, commissioners Dellene Arthur and Sam Diannitto said they had no choice but to rule that the infection was job-related. They said there was no medical proof that LaBostrie’s HIV-positive condition was caused by incidents outside his duties as a policeman.
“So I believe we’re bound to make the connection that this is a service disability,” Arthur said.
Diannitto said it could be seen as unfair for the commission to delay the pension in an effort to find another reason for LaBostrie’s infection. “It would make it look like, based on personal feelings, we were going on a search to refute the evidence” that LaBostrie was infected by the drug suspect, he said.
Generally, medical experts agree that it is relatively rare for a person to become infected with the AIDS virus because of contaminated blood mingling through a cut in the hand.
Commissioners said the doctors who evaluated LaBostrie could not conclusively say how the officer contracted the infection. While one doctor said he felt “confident” that the infection came through the contact with the drug suspect, another estimated that there was only a “0.4%" chance of a person becoming infected that way.
“He has had numerous heterosexual contacts,” wrote Dr. Michael Levine. “And it is conceivable he might have received the HIV-positive from (those) heterosexual contacts.”
LaBostrie, who has been attending pension board hearings carrying a Bible and who was once accompanied by a clergyman, said he was not bothered by whether some of the pension board members doubted his story.
“I’m just giving my situation to the Lord,” he said. “What they on the board think and believe is up to them.”