MIAMI — Paul Schippereit was crossing Biscayne Boulevard at 23rd Street when a yellow BMW 320i slammed into him and changed the trajectory of his life. The young Miami police officer was responding to a robbery. The victim had been shot in the face. The year was 1984.
Only 27 and a sworn officer for two years, Schippereit would spend the next four years in and out of hospitals and undergoing surgeries in a futile attempt to recover from a badly broken leg, internal bleeding and a severe brain injury. He was placed on permanent disability in 1988 and never returned to work.
Schippereit’s watch ended on July 4 after decades of procedures and operations. He took his last breath at a medical facility in Virginia. He was 66. Through the years, as his brain deteriorated, he lost both legs and an arm.
Miami Police will send honor guards and a flag to a planned service in Fort Myers next month. But friends and former co-workers say a key recognition is missing: Though he was battling COVID-19 in his final days, they want Schippereit’s death to be classified as in-the-line-of-duty.
“He was getting ready to get married [in 1984]. It was a horrible thing,” said Joe Longueira, president of the Miami Police Benevolent Association, a group that advocates for retired police officers, often providing updates on deaths or injury. “It’s the severity of the injury that impacted him for the rest of his life. He never had an opportunity to have a life at all after this.”
Schippereit never married and doesn’t have any children. Longueira believes he has a brother and a sister. Efforts to reach his sister failed. As for having his death classified as in-the-line-of-duty, it would likely benefit his family financially and it would mean the name Schippereit would be permanently engraved on some revered real estate.
In Miami, it would adorn a wall at police headquarters alongside 37 others. And in Washington, it would be carved into a 304-foot piece of limestone at the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial next to 22,000 others killed in the line of duty.
Doctors would have to determine that the injuries Schippereit suffered 38 years ago were at least in part responsible for his death for it to be classified as an on-duty death, Morales said. Then, the International Association of Chiefs of Police says, it’s up to each agency to determine if the death fits the criteria. In Miami, whether in uniform or not, if the injury that led to an officer’s death happened while performing a police function, he or she qualifies.
Miami is waiting on Schippereit’s medical records and a doctor to make the determination.
Miami Police Chief Manny Morales — who agreed to send the Honor Guard to Fort Myers — is on board. The chief said Schippereit “was never able to fully recover” from his injuries.
“I believe that it is likely that his death is connected to his on-duty injuries,” said Morales. “Every police officer that puts their life on the line for their community should know that proper honors will be paid if they make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Accounts of Schippereit’s short time with Miami Police and what actually happened on Jan. 25, 1984, are hard to come by. Newspaper articles are yellowed. Emails of the stories a bit blurred. Even finding a clear picture of Schippereit proved difficult.
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But by piecing together five newspaper clippings, it appears he was hit crossing Biscayne Boulevard by someone whose blood-alcohol level was eventually recorded at .06, just below today’s legal limit. The day he was struck, the city’s afternoon paper of record, the Miami News, ran a big story directly below its masthead, with a picture of rescuers fighting to keep Schippereit alive.
“Cop’s condition critical after car runs him down,” the Miami News headline blared. “Miami lawyer charged with DUI, careless driving.”
The newspaper cost 15 cents. Reporter Betsy August said Schippereit was thrown more than 70 feet and was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital. Famed Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan weighed in, saying the man charged with striking Schippereit had initially refused a breathalyzer test.
The officer spent the next 38 years in and out of brain treatment centers. His condition worsened and he lost both his legs and an arm. Just before his death he caught COVID-19 and his internal organs began to fail.
Bill Clayton, a retired Miami cop who is pictured by the Miami News holding an intravenous bag as Schippereit is being tended to, said he remembers officers collecting money so they could send his partner to visit Schippereit and his family after the accident. Clayton said there is no doubt the accident almost four decades ago led to his fellow cop’s death.
“I remember him well. But there’s not much I can say. I remember he had a really beautiful girlfriend and that she actually wanted to proceed with the wedding and the relationship and that he pushed her away,” said Clayton. “Thirty-eight years in rehab. If it were me, I’d have wanted to die that day on the street.”
Schippereit’s family has planned a memorial service in Fort Myers for Sept. 12. The Miami Police Honor Guard will be there. His remaining family members will receive a flag from the city.