Courts uphold firing of Pennsylvania cop who lost sense of smell

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

An appeals court said a Pennsylvania police department was justified in firing an officer because he lost his sense of smell in an off-duty motorcycle accident.

The court said the Collier Township firing was valid because police need their sense of smell to detect substances like drugs, alcohol, hazardous materials, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled.

David Agostino, 44, suffered anosmia, a partial or full lack of sense of smell, due to head trauma suffered from a 2004 crash in Ohio. Officials in Collier Township, a Pittsburgh suburb in Allegheny County, honorably discharged him because they were worried the condition created a risk.

The location of Allegheny County on a map of Pennsylvania.
Image: Dbenbenn.

Attorneys for Agostino unsuccessfully argued a sense of smell is not part of the physical exam for prospective police officers, and that there was no statute or police regulation that cited lack of sense of smell as grounds for firing a police officer.

But during the court hearing, a fellow officer testified Agostino could not smell the odor of marijuana and alcohol after pulling over a motorist following a high-speed chase. His police chief also said he failed to smell leaking gas from an elderly resident's furnace.

"[The chief] explained that Agostino's inability to smell if the furnace was leaking gas created a hazardous situation, placing Agostino, the resident and the public in danger because 'it could have possibly caused an explosion,'" Judge Bernard L. McGinley wrote in the decision.

Agostino, of South Fayette Township, could not be reached for comment by media reports after the decision by the three-judge Commonwealth Court panel.


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