he received from the Baltimore County Police Department at a ceremony on Oct. 7.
ARREST HAS LINGERING EFFECTS
Detective has lost use of left arm
by Heather Perlberg
Former police detective Matthew Ackley dislocated his thumb while making an arrest last year. As a result of complications from the injury, his career is over and his left arm is useless.
Ackley was a member of the Baltimore County Police Department for nearly 10 years, all of it at the North Point Precinct. He was on the Community Drug and Violence Interdiction Team, which now operates under a centralized narcotics unit.
Ackley’s career in the department ended officially on Tuesday, when he was retired due to a disability he developed from the injury he sustained in the line of duty.
The Pennsylvania native’s life was turned upside down after what appeared to be a mild injury progressed to a rare, debilitating condition.
On Aug. 3, 2007, Ackley and Det. Robert Lockwood watched a drug deal take place outside a Four Seasons Court apartment building, said Capt. Kate Meeks-Hall, the North Point Precinct commander.
When the two detectives attempted to make an arrest, one of the men involved in the deal reached for a paper bag with a loaded gun inside. The detectives wrestled the man to the ground and Ackley dislocated his thumb in the process.
“[The dealer] was going to shoot my guys, and they did what they had to do,” Meeks-Hall said. “[Ackley] lost his job because of it.”
Though the life of Terrence A. Miles, 27, of Akin Circle in Chase, changed when he was slammed with 13 different charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole, so did Ackley’s.
From his injury, or the resulting surgery, the detective developed Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a horribly painful and progressive neurological condition that can affect skin, muscles, joints and bones. The condition is characterized by severe burning pain, pathological changes in bones and skin, excessive sweating, swelling, and extreme sensitivity to touch, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The pain and swelling has spread up Ackley’s left arm, rendering it useless.
“I throw up four to five times a day [from the pain]. I can’t sleep. My left arm is limp because I can’t lift it or bend it,” Ackley said.
His family has made many changes.
“I have three young children. I haven’t been able to pick up my youngest son. It’s heartbreaking,” Ackley said. “My hand is about four times the normal size of a hand.”
Ackley’s wife, Lauren, helps him dress, cuts his food and is attending nursing school so she can provide their family with more income. Ackley goes to physical therapy instead of work, and his parents often drive an hour to his house in Stewartstown, Pa., so they can help him take care of his children. He sleeps sitting upright in a chair, with his arm draped over the side on a pillow. Ackley said he spends little time in public, for fear that someone or something will brush against his hand and trigger even more pain.
“I keep every day hoping this will go away. I miss my job more than anything else in this world,” he said.
Ackley received two awards from the Baltimore County Police Department at a ceremony on Oct. 7: a commendation and a Purple Heart for the incident that cost him the use of his hand. He said receiving the award was especially difficult for him because he knew it was the last thing he would do as a police officer, the last time he would be called “Detective Ackley.”
The now former detective said one of his proudest moments was being sworn in as a police officer, and that he would not change his decision to become one.
“I was proud to serve the people of Dundalk. And I feel like I did my best and helped lots of people’s lives,” Ackley said.
Fellow officers and other members of the department have been supportive, Ackley said. Detectives Sekou Hinton and Scott Kilpatrick organized a fundraiser that yielded $10,000 for Ackley’s medical bills.
The former detective, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Saturday, said the fundraiser meant more than his fellow officers will ever know.
Ackley has undergone several medical treatments to prevent the CRPS from getting worse. He said he has used some of his savings to get the best possible treatment, including sessions in a hypobaric chamber that stopped the condition from spreading to his right hand.
Meeks-Hall said the department is upset about Ackley’s injury.
“He was a great detective in the unit, a good dad, husband and friend to everybody. He’s a nice guy. It’s really tragic. We wish him very well in his future,” said Meeks-Hall, who is retiring herself at the end of the month.
Though Ackley said this is not where he ever imagined he would be, he will continue to be hopeful.
“No matter what, I’m not going to give up. I am going to do what I need to get better,” he said. “If one day I can move my fingers and wrist, I’ll be very proud. Right now I just sit on the couch and try to make them move.”
Earlier this week, Ackley was still waiting to hear how much he would receive for disability compensation.