Donald Robertson was blindsided. He was stopped at a red light on the North Sam Houston Parkway East frontage road on June 24, 2006, his patrol car next to a big white van sitting in the inside lane. The light turned green. As Robertson entered the intersection, a blue 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix sped through the stoplight — then brakes squealed and screeched as the Pontiac slammed into the patrol car’s front passenger side, throwing Robertson and his white Chevrolet Impala into a concrete barrier 15 yards away.
It was the worst jolt Robertson had ever felt in his life, and the first accident he’d ever had while on patrol in his 17 years working as a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy. His neck hurt like hell; his right leg was pinned by a toppled computer console. A plume of smoke rose from his battered car. He wanted to turn his head, but his body wasn’t responding to what his brain was telling it to do. He tried to lift himself, gripping the steering wheel and hoisting himself up using his upper-body strength, but every time he tried, he could feel his torso separating from his head, causing him to lose his breath and slip in and out of consciousness. It didn’t take him long to realize his neck was badly broken.
The crash gave Robertson a type II Odontoid fracture, left a four-inch laceration on his right knee and temporarily blurred his vision with floaters. Doctors at the hospital told him he needed emergency surgery to realign his neck with the rest of his body. It was a dangerous procedure. Paraplegia or quadriplegia: Those were two possible outcomes. A third was death. Robertson had no choice. Miraculously, he survived the surgery. But he was hardly made whole again.
Hurt and unable to work, Robertson was immediately placed on worker’s compensation. His supervisors repeatedly assured him he would have a place one day again with the sheriff’s office. His time working as a patrol deputy — his dream job — was almost certainly over, but many injured deputies return to work simple desk jobs. Whenever Robertson would call the county or the sheriff’s office, worried he would lose his job while he recovered, he was always told not to worry, to just focus on getting better. Law enforcement takes care of its own.
In 2012, Robertson was blindsided again. Two weeks before Christmas, he received a letter from the sheriff’s office in the mail. “An administrative review reveals you have been absent from duty since June 24, 2006, after having been placed on Worker’s Compensation due to an injury,” the letter said. “As of the date of this letter, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office has not received any correspondence from you or Worker’s Compensation concerning your ability to return to active duty at this time. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Office is left with no other recourse but to grant you an administrative dismissal, effective the date of this letter.” The letter instructed Robertson to turn in his badge. After more than two decades of serving in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and nearly losing his life on the job, Robertson was suddenly kicked to the curb.