PTSD-linked officer suicide may fall under 'line of duty' death benefit, Minnesota appeals court rules

Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerome Lannon, 58, died by suicide in 2018 after struggling with PTSD. The Department of Public Safety said it doesn't qualify as death in the line of duty.

Cindy Lannon holds a picture of her dead husband, Jerry Lannon, in Stillwater, Minn., on Jan. 9, 2019. Lannon, 58, a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office who was diagnosed with depression and PTSD, died by suicide the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2018.
Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Surviving spouses and children of police officers could be eligible for “killed in the line of duty” benefits if the officer’s death resulted from post-traumatic stress disorder, a Minnesota court has ruled.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday, Dec. 19, sided with Cindy Lannon, who has been fighting the state public safety department for the death benefit after losing her husband four years ago.

Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Lannon, 58, died by suicide in 2018 after struggling with PTSD, something the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said does not qualify as death in the line of duty. But the appeals court said the state and an administrative judge’s interpretation were too narrow and ordered more hearings for the case.

“We conclude that ‘killed in the line of duty’ … includes a death by suicide resulting from PTSD caused by performing duties peculiar to a public safety officer,” appeals judge Jeanne M. Cochran wrote in the court’s opinion. “Accordingly, survivors of such an officer may qualify for the death benefit.”

Lannon, who had a decades-long career as a public safety officer started his career in Iowa and started working for Washington County in 1999, according to court documents. During his career, he responded to “many disturbing incidents,” according to court documents, which included a double murder, multiple suicides, a child’s sexual assault, and fatal vehicle crashes. He also responded to high-stress situations, including one where he apprehended a domestic dispute suspect who had fired a weapon in a home.


Lannon was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2015 and started to attend therapy to address the conditions. A psychologist noted at the time that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, though he was not formally diagnosed, according to court documents.

Lannon’s mental health declined significantly following injuries from a 2018 car crash, his wife, Cindy, told the Pioneer Press in 2019. Court documents said Lannon went on medical leave at the time of the accident and sought help from a new counselor, who recognized an “initial diagnostic impression” of PTSD.

In November of that year, the therapist noted Lannon had ongoing depression symptoms and “suicidal thoughts” driven by thoughts of failure, according to court documents. Two days later, his supervisor brought him to the hospital for suicidal ideation, where he remained overnight in the emergency department due to extreme risk of carrying through with the plan.

He was diagnosed with PTSD and severe recurrent major depressive disorder with psychotic symptoms and admitted for inpatient psychiatric care.

At a therapy session a few days later, he continued to report continued anxiety, depression and stress. Three days later, he died by suicide. According to court documents, his death certificate listed severe depression and PTSD as contributing causes.

Cindy Lannon learned after her husband’s death that she would not receive line-of-duty death benefits unless the Minnesota Department of Public Safety determined the death was “duty-related” because it was tied to job-related PTSD.

Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington declined to recognize Lannon’s suicide as a duty death, writing that a death must happen while “acting in the course or scope of duties as a public safety officer.” Harrington also said Lannon’s death could not be considered accidental.

Minnesota has provided a death in the line of duty benefit to the spouses and children of officers since 1973. The law contains language excluding coverage for deaths from natural causes, except those caused by heart attack, stroke or vascular rupture, as long as certain work-related conditions are met. Accidental deaths in the line of duty are also covered.


Cindy Lannon requested a contested case proceeding and the matter ended up before an administrative law judge, who ended up siding with the public safety department.

“PTSD and depression are not, themselves, fatal conditions and were not the immediate cause of Deputy Lannon’s death,” the judge reasoned. “Instead, Deputy Lannon died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

The appeals court disagreed, sending it back to the Office of Administrative Hearings for more hearings that take the new opinion into account.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the state plans to appeal the Monday appeals court decision.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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