The widow of a Marin County sheriff's deputy slain in Petaluma last year is in line for tax-free, service-connected disability pension benefits even though the deputy wasn't on the job, but the matter will be aired in public before she's added to the pension payroll.
Although the Marin County pension board voted to approve service-connected benefits for Cynthia Mathiesen, widow of 49-year-old Sheriff's Deputy Jim Mathiesen, the panel will meet again in public next month to consider the case anew.
Deputy Mathiesen, who was on worker's compensation leave, was killed July 19, 2011, in an off-duty confrontation when he came to the aid of a friend outside Petaluma and tried to protect her from her ex-boyfriend, Thomas Halloran of Novato. Halloran, 28, gunned down Mathiesen and in turn was shot to death by the woman's brother.
A service death benefit is more generous than a nonservice award and, although not yet calculated, could amount to about $50,000 a year, along with lifetime health coverage. Most if not all of the payment would be tax-free.
Marin County finance chief Roy Given, who serves on the pension board, dissented in the 5-2 vote, joining board president Maya Gladstern.
"I voted the way I did based on the information presented," Given said.
The board's reconsideration of the matter in public will be aimed at knotting legal loose ends after a Marin Independent Journal inquiry about the propriety of holding a closed session on a matter involving philosophical and legal arguments of public interest -- rather than a personnel matter involving medical records that raise privacy issues.
Cynthia Mathiesen's attorney, Craig Dykman, a veteran worker's compensation lawyer, said after the pension board deliberated that his client qualified for a service-connected death benefit because peace officers are on duty around the clock regardless of whether they are at work.
"Even though he was off duty and not in uniform, and even though he was out on work comp, when you are a deputy sheriff, you are a peace officer 24/7 in California," Dykman said.
"It was a very emotional day. I made a very emotional pitch," the attorney said about Wednesday's closed-door session, adding the law indicates that if an off-duty officer is in "imminent danger . . . he's acting as a peace officer in the state of California."
Patrick Richardson, a county lawyer who represented the retirement association at the session, but not the pension board, argued that the service-connected benefit was inappropriate. He noted Mathiesen was not on the clock, not in uniform and not following procedure.
"I can't comment on the facts," Richardson said Friday, declining to discuss the case.
The deputy's slaying stunned the Sheriff's Office, where Mathiesen was known for a vigorous work ethic, relentless energy, good humor and an eagerness to help people in need. A training room was named in Mathiesen's honor last summer at a ceremony in which top officials wore aloha shirts in a salute to the garb the fun-loving deputy favored.
Mathiesen, who graduated from Petaluma High School in 1980 and spent 25 years working for Hermsmeyer Construction before joining law enforcement at age 40, was called "grandpa" by younger recruits.
He is survived by his wife and two children.