Oologah, OK – Oologah Police Lieutenant Charles Neill was going 111 miles per hour in pursuit of a vehicle that was shooting at police and other cars on an Oklahoma highway when he was shot in the head (video below).
His police car careened off the highway into an embankment and barrel-rolled, before it began flipping end-over-end down the side of the highway.
It was a miracle he survived.
Lt. Neill told Blue Lives Matter that his recovery, which has so far included more than 250 doctor’s appointments, has been incredibly painful. Mostly because of the way the state of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation benefits work.
Shortly after he was shot, the wounded hero received a bill for his $36,000 life flight to the hospital, he said. He and his wife had to go to court to get that paid by the state and yet, that wasn’t even one of the biggest hurdles they faced.
Lt. Neill, who served as reservist in the U.S. Marine Corps and served full-time in the Navy before he went into law enforcement, graduated from college two weeks before he was shot in the head in the line of duty on May 28, 2015.
The then-36-year-old devoted husband and father of three little boys had finished his degree in Justice Administration at Rogers State University while working two full-time law enforcement jobs, and he was looking forward to a new career in federal law enforcement.
He was on patrol for the Oologah Police Department on the May afternoon when he responded to back up Talala Police Officer Stephen Pales, who called for assistance after he stopped an SUV for speeding and believed he might have been a DUI, KOTV reported.
After Lt. Neill arrived on the scene, he and Officer Pales approached the vehicle together. Dashcam video showed the driver peeling out from the side of the highway as the officers approached his window.
The lieutenant pursued the SUV as it fled, with Officer Pales in the lead, initially.
Only two miles in to what would become a 24-mile chase that ended in Kansas, the suspects began shooting at the police cars and other vehicles on the highway with a semi-automatic rifle.
Officer Pales fell back to determine whether his vehicle had been hit, he told KOTV.
“I could see the back window break, fire coming out and heard the shots coming into my patrol car,” Officer Pales said.
Lt. Neill moved up to replace Officer Pales in the lead of the pursuit, as bullets continued to fly at him.
Then a bullet went through windshield of his police car and hit Lt. Neill in the head.
The video from Officer Pales’ dashcam showed what happened from the moment Lt. Neill was shot in the head with a .223 round through windshield of his police cruiser.
His police car careened off the highway into an embankment and barrel-rolled before it began flipping end-over-end down the side of the highway, spewing car parts and tires as it went.
Officer Pales told KOTV after the fact that he was sure Lt. Neill was dead when the car stopped flipping.
“In my mind I knew he was dead or dying. To see that violent of a crash, I didn’t know what I was pulling up on. My mind goes from pursuit mode to rescue mode. I wanted to save Charles’ life,” Officer Pales said.
Amazingly, Lt. Neill was conscious when officers arrived to pull him out of his patrol car, which was gushing gas after the crash.
The brave officer, with a gunshot wound to the head, walked away from the crash with assistance from other officers before he was transported by helicopter to the hospital.
“The doctors said the .223 round should have broken my neck,” Lt. Neill, who realizes how lucky he was, told Blue Lives Matter.
The young lieutenant sustained a traumatic brain injury that would require several years of speech therapy and physical therapy to overcome.
Lt. Neill said that after he was shot, workers’ compensation didn’t file a case for two weeks, so the hospital was using his private insurance after he was shot on duty. The insurance would only cover five days and so he was released from the hospital just five days after being shot, the wounded hero explained.
“I had just gotten shot in the head and it was pretty crazy,” Lt. Neill said.
But that was the last time anything happened quickly.
Because he had been shot in the head, the neurosurgeon who treated him at the hospital wanted Lt. Neill to see a neurologist in follow-up.
The area of the brain where he was shot controls speech, short-term memory, and motor skills, the lieutenant explained.
It took one entire year before Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation approved the appointment with a neurologist, Lt. Neill said. It took two-and-a-half months to get a neurostimulator approved after the doctor said he needed it, he told Blue Lives Matter.
The wounded hero has had multiple surgeries and two years of therapy, but he’s still in constant pain from being shot in the line of duty.
“I have a neurostimulator implanted in the back of my head. I have problems with migraine headaches and that kind of stuff. I had two bulging disks in my neck and two bulging disks in my lower back,” Lt. Neill cataloged the suffering that followed being shot and flipped in his patrol car.
“I had to have surgery on my arms – they had to move nerves around because for some reason my nerves are swelling,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to be battling this for the rest of my life,” Lt. Neill said.
But for now, the lieutenant and his family are in limbo. He hasn’t been cleared by the turtle-like workers’ compensation process so that he can be medically retired by his department, so there’s nothing for him to do except go to doctors’ appointments.
Lt. Neill said that he and his wife, who is a school teacher, have had to fight for every bit of medical treatment he has received since he was injured in the line of duty, something he never expected. And his disability payments are capped at $371 a week.
“Just before my accident the state gave control of workers’ comp to private insurance companies. And they’re worried about their profit, not getting you back to work,” he explained.
While his police department was very supportive and tried to help, the experience in dealing with workers’ comp was a nightmare from the beginning, Lt. Neill told Blue Lives Matter.
“My first case manager worked for the insurance company and was denying everything,” he said. So they went to court about it and the judge ordered an independent case manager to handle Lt. Neill’s claims.
“We ended up going to court to get the bills paid too – the life flight alone was $36,000,” he said.
“The judge ordered that they had to pay everything, and after that they did,” Lt. Neill said. But the experience was stressful for an officer trying to recover from a brain injury, and the fact they’d started paying the bills didn’t mean that workers’ compensation would be picking up the pace with his case.
“Three years now, and it’s still going on,” Lt. Neill said.
“As long as I have a worker’s comp case, I can’t return to work or anything. I’m just sitting at home waiting for them to make a decision so I can just move on,” he said, sounding sad.
“The system also has a stipulation that I cannot seek outside care or it cancels my claim and benefits,” Lt. Neill said.
The officer who had supported his family by working two police jobs and looked forward to entering federal law enforcement couldn’t make ends meet on the disability payments he was awarded by Oklahoma workers’ comp.
He told Blue Lives Matter that he and his wife had to make some major lifestyle adjustments to survive after he was shot.
“It has had a major impact on our lives. You have your same bills, plus childcare when you’re in medical treatments, and my wife’s lost salary because she goes to appointments with me,” Lt. Neill explained.
“You learn to do without. You realize what’s important and what’s not important. It’s just changing the way that you live,” he said.
“We had to sell our house, and we had to sell some vehicles. Now we’re just stuck in a holding pattern,” Lt. Neill said bitterly.
The wounded hero, who was awarded a medal of valor from the state in 2015 and named Oklahoma’s Top Cop of the Year in 2016, doesn’t blame his police department for the problems that followed his on-duty injury.
Lt. Neill laid responsibility squarely at the feet of those administering Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation benefits.
“We have a great chief but the police department has no say in worker’s comp,” he said.
Oologah Police Chief Peter Moore told Blue Lives Matter he wasn’t happy about how his lieutenant’s treatment and recovery has been handled.
“Workman’s comp is something that I have no control over, and I’ve seen it with other officers from my previous job where they had to sue to get their medical bills paid. As an administrator, I wish I could do more,” Chief Moore said.
“Several years ago there was so much workman’s comp fraud and the state fixed it, but made it worse for those who get hurt. It’s going to take legislation to change it. There’s firemen, police officers, and construction workers who are affected by it,” the chief explained.
In the meantime, the Neill family continues to worry and suffer.
“What we are worried about the most is that total temporary disability can only be received for 156 weeks,” Lt. Neill explained.
He said he’ll hit the 156-week mark at the end of May, and he doesn’t know what he’d do to pay the bills if the state’s disability payments were cut off at that point.
You can donate to a fund for Lt. Neill at OfficerDown.US, a non-profit crowdfunding site for law enforcement. Even if you are unable to donate, please share this article on social media so others may see it who can help.
Watch the officer’s police vehicle flip end-over-end after he was shot in the head in the video below: