A North Carolina police chief has been suspended without pay and placed on probation after telling officers where they could get a fake COVID-19 vaccination card without getting a shot.
T.J. Smith, chief of police in Oakboro, North Carolina, was placed on unpaid leave for two weeks after a private investigations team revealed the scheme, according to CNN. The revelation came as health officials warned there could be as many as 10,000 COVID-19 cases per day in the state come January.
Smith was reprimanded after an internal investigation spearheaded by Blue Chameleon Investigations revealed he told fellow officers about the clinic. The private investigation company also received help from Oakboro Town Administrator Doug Burgess, who accused Smith of “violating policies including, fraud, willful acts that endanger the property of others and serving a conflicting interest.”
The five-year police chief issued an email response for his actions to The Stanly News and Press. In the email, he stated he was passing information along he received from a friend.
“After I got off the phone with that friend, I called two other officers (not in my department) and passed on information about what was described as a ‘self-vaccination’ clinic,” said Smith. “I got one phone call, hung up and made two others. I didn’t sit back and digest the information, ruminate on it, or otherwise give it much thought. I just passed it on.”
Smith ended his statement by admitting he “shared misinformation” and he wanted to speak up sooner, “but with everything going on, it was best that I wait for the investigative process to conclude.”
There has been widespread hesitation among law enforcement toward receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as the highly contagious omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. Since the start of the pandemic, over 460 members of law enforcement have died from COVID-19, as reported by The New York Times. In addition, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for officers in 2020. Despite this, police unions across the country have fought vaccine mandates for their forces.