David Toma, the former Newark detective whose colorful career inspired the television shows “Toma” and “Barretta” was awarded an increased disability pension by a state appeals court on the basis of work-related injuries.
As a detective investigating vice, gambling and narcotics, Toma became a master of disguises and gimmicks in order to infiltrate a suspect’s surroundings.
He could turn into a Good Humor man or a hippie in a matter of minutes thanks to the costumes he kept in the trunk of his Plymouth. He worked alone, chose his own targets and ran up a successful conviction record on the thousands of arrests he made.
But, as the court pointed out, along the way he was hurt several times and the injuries took their toll.
Among other incidents, Toma was bitten on the thumb and treated for blood poisoning, thrown to the floor while trying to subdue a violent 300 pound mental patient, overcome by smoke while helping rescue residents of a burning apartment house, and beaten and stabbed while attempting to break up a fight in a diner.
His 17 years on the force resulted in serious back damage, a severely injured mouth and jaw, and recurring headaches and dizziness.
Toma, 46 and a resident of Clark, served as a consultant to the TV show bearing his name and appeared in a cameo role in each program. After the show’s star Tony Musante left the program, the popular “Baretta,” which was also based on Toma’s police career, started with Robert Blake in the lead part.
The former detective is highly sought after as a speaker and lectures throughout the country.
When it came to Toma’s pension for his service to the Newark Police Department, however, members of the retirement board balked at granting him benefits based on a disability resulting from accidental events and instead gave him the regular disability pension, which is lower.
Appellate Division Judge Leon Milmed, in an opinion joined by Judges John Crane and Michael King, reversed the board saying, “We are convinced the evidence demonstrates that (Toma’s) permanent and total disability has been directly brought on by a combination of traumatic events occurring during and as a result of his performance of his duties.”
Martin F. Kronberg Toma’s lawyer, said the court’s action in awarding his client an accidental disability retirement allowance means the former detective will receive a pension equal to two-thirds of his last year’s pay rather than getting the lower ordinary disability allowance.
Reached at his home, Toma said he hopes the ruling helps other policemen who were injured in the line of duty.
“It shows other policemen that if similar things happen don’t be down on yourself. The decision will enhance the situation for policemen all over the country,” he said.
Referring to his fame, Toma pointed to his physical difficulties as well and stated, “I paid the price.”
He said he still has a hard time getting to sleep and added that when he lectures he often “feels like passing out.”
Toma’s lecturing has taken him to elementary and high schools all over the nation. His talks are designed to help students come to grips with their problems, including the use of drugs and alcohol.
A movie on his life is under production and two television networks are again interested in doing a series based on his experiences, he said.
The Star Ledger