By Ashley Fantz
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- It probably would have been just another ho-hum city council budget meeting.
Except that the leader of Atlanta's police union, and second-highest ranking member of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said he wanted to beat Atlanta's mayor with a bat.
"I want to beat her [Mayor Shirley Franklin] in the head with a baseball bat sometimes when I think about it," Sgt. Scott Kreher said into a microphone earlier this month in an apparent off-hand remark during a presentation he was giving to the council. Within days, the 17-year department veteran was suspended.
Kreher said the "it" that made him want to club the mayor was that, despite repeated complaints, the police union contends the city is not honoring workers' compensation claims for cops whose careers ended when they were seriously injured on the job.
Franklin, one of the nation's high-profile mayors, told CNN on Tuesday that the officers' complaints are a "separate issue" from Kreher's comments.
"Some people think I'll just shake it off," she said of the sergeant's threat. "I can't shake off an officer at City Hall -- not in his shower or in his front yard, but in official capacity -- threatening to hit me in the head with a bat. That is a severe act of violence. When you hit someone with a bat, you intend to kill them."
The police officers union called a news conference Thursday, in part, to defend Kreher, who's their second-highest ranking member.
Three officers in wheelchairs were there, at times crying, their voices raised, as they told their stories of being shot on duty and paralyzed for life. They say they've made repeated calls for months to city officials to get help with their medical claims and have been ignored. They are part of a group of officers alleging that NovaPro, a San Diego-based private insurance company, has refused or made it difficult for them to get the medication they need to alleviate pain and repair or replace medical equipment.
"I've been calling the mayor's office for more than a year, and no one has called me back or I've been told to talk to another department. Kreher called me back the same day," said Ryan Phinney, a 43-year-old paraplegic whose squad car was T-boned in 1989. He said he suffered with kidney stones, made more painful due to his paralysis, because NovaPro either ignored or rejected his claims for months.
"Kreher was defending us against people who refused to listen, and that is so offensive. It's no wonder he got upset," Phinney said.
The city used to provide its own services, but "there were concerns about internal management," Franklin's office explained to CNN, so it began contracting in 2004 with NovaPro. The police union complained for months about the company. Atlanta officials this month renewed the city's agreement with NovaPro for $3.7 million over three years, saying no other company they're aware of was in position to do a better job.
Russ Whitmarsh, chief operating officer of NovaPro, referred all questions about the officers' allegations to city officials.
Mayor Franklin's spokesperson issued this statement to CNN:
"We are aware of the complaints of the five injured former Atlanta police officers. We greatly respect the service of these officers on behalf of Atlanta and the sacrifice they have made. The City of Atlanta has worked and will continue working with the employees' attorneys to address their current complaints. We take that responsibility and obligation seriously and intend to address every complaint within the framework of the Workers' Compensation Act."
A few days after the bat comment, Kreher apologized to Franklin in a letter, which was published on the union Web site. He called his remark "inexcusable," explaining that it sprung from "frustration and anger."