Trial begins Monday on the lawsuit of a disabled 30-year-old former Army Ranger who is suing the federal government for preventing him from attaining the second of his lifelong goals — to become an FBI agent. His first had already been accomplished — to be an Army Ranger.
Justin Slaby of Milwaukee, Wis., filed his lawsuit in a Virginia federal district court against Attorney General Eric Holder in July, alleging the FBI violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Slaby served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan without incident. But back in the U.S. while preparing to deploy for a fourth tour, his left hand was blown off by a faulty grenade in a training accident.
After being fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthesis, Slaby was encouraged by one of his physicians to continue working toward his goal of becoming an FBI special agent.
When he left the hospital, he earned his college degree and continued working with his prosthesis until he assured himself he could perform any of the functions of an agent. With the support of agents in the Milwaukee office, Slaby applied for, and was accepted, to commence training after the first passing the FBI’s fitness-for-duty examination.
“For each task in the exam, I demonstrated both with two of my main prosthetics just to demonstrate I could execute every task regardless of the prosthetic,” Slaby said to NPR.
When he was hired by the FBI and reported to Quantico, Va. for training, things got ugly. Fellow trainees reportedly overheard their instructors in the hallway remarking, “What’s next? Guys in wheelchairs?”
According to NPR:
Six weeks into a 21-week program, Slaby was told he was out. His trainers had come to the conclusion that he couldn’t safely handle a weapon. Slaby argued, “Let me go to the firing range, and I’ll show you what I can do.” But his trainers refused. There’d be no demonstration. Their minds were made up and that was it.
FBI Agent Mark Crider was one of the agents who originally deemed Slaby fit for duty. When he was subpoenaed to testify in a deposition by Slaby’s lawyers, he was summoned to his boss’s office, that of Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson. That’s when things went from ugly to uglier.
“The gist of the conversation was that Justin [Slaby] was ruining his reputation by bringing the lawsuit and he has no business being an agent,” Crider said in the deposition. “And that it would be in my best interest to come down on the side of the government in this matter.”
Crider was dumbfounded. He was being ordered to lie under oath. “I actually went back to my desk and wrote the entire thing up in case I needed it later,” he said.
Carlson has since been reassigned and is under investigation following this incident.
As it turns out, there are several other FBI special agents with a prosthetic hand. But Slaby is the first to be hired with one.
Slaby wrote in his original appeal of the FBI’s decision, “Despite all that has occurred, I have not lost my faith in this organization, and I believe in its mission. I just need someone out there to believe in me.”
Jury selection begins at 10:00 a.m. Monday.
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