Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the day Pojoaque Tribal police Officer Kevin Schultz of Santa Fe lost his life after saving a 12-year-old boy from drowning in the Rio Grande.
Cheryl Schultz, the wife he left behind, has been fighting for nearly a decade to claim workers’ compensation for herself and her son, Keagon.
While her attorney says she is owed more than $300,000, an attorney representing the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department and the New Mexico Mutual Casualty Co. has argued that since Officer Schultz wasn’t on duty at the time, and because his death occurred outside the boundaries of Pojoaque tribal land, his widow isn’t entitled to those benefits.
Cheryl Schultz also failed to file her claim within the one-year statute of limitations, the police department and insurance company have said.
Cheryl Schultz, who has lost two rounds in her legal battle for workers’ compensation, has taken her case to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which heard arguments Wednesday on whether or not she missed the filing deadline. The court’s decision in the case could take anywhere from one day to six months.
Attorney Richard Shane made it clear in his argument that a period of just one year is allotted for anyone to claim workers’ compensation, and that Cheryl Schultz filed her claim too late. “There was no reasonable reason for the delay,” he said.
However, in Schultz’s lawsuit, she claims that Pojoaque Pueblo Police Chief John Garcia assured her in July 2003, 11 months after her husband’s death, that he would submit the workers’ compensation claim — still within the one-year deadline for filing.
In October 2003, Schultz’s complaint said, she realized that the claim had never been filed.
“As soon as Mrs. Schultz realized [Garcia] had done nothing to file the complaint, she acted on her own, but it was then too late,” said Schultz’s attorney, George Wright Weeth.
Schultz also claims Garcia told her that all benefits would be provided to her for her husband’s bravery “in the line of duty.”
Shane has disputed that Kevin Schultz was on duty when he died.
Kevin Schultz, 44, who previously worked for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, was fishing in the Rio Grande near Pilar with a group of children from his church on Aug. 17, 2002. When a boy fell into the water, Schultz rushed into the river to save him. Schultz brought the boy to shore, but then collapsed facedown in shallow water. His wife’s attempts to revive him with CPR were not successful. A medical examiner later said the officer may have hit his head on a rock.
While the officer wasn’t working at the time, Weeth said Wednesday that “he and all police officers are never off-duty.” The attorney added that Schultz had his badge with him on the fishing trip.
Outside of court, Weeth said that if the justices decide in favor of Cheryl Schultz on the issue of whether her claim for benefits was timely, the case will likely go back to the Court of Appeals to determine if her husband died in the course of his job as a police officer.
Cheryl Schultz was surrounded by family and supporters in the state Supreme Court building during the arguments. After the hearing, she said the last 10 years have been difficult. She said Chief Garcia “promised, month after month, that he filed the complaint. … There’s just a lot of things they are refusing to provide.”
A candlelight vigil will be held on Friday evening in Pilar at the Rio Grande to remember Officer Kevin Schultz.
His son, Keagon, who was 8 at the time of his death, is planning to attend The University of New Mexico in the fall. His mother said he hopes to study criminal justice.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler.