Lebanon, IN – A Boone County sheriff’s deputy was fired on Wednesday for allegedly failing to abide by the department’s mandatory COVID-19 testing rules.
Boone County Sheriff’s Deputy Tobias Shepherd said that he realized ahead of time that his July 14 COVID-19 test was scheduled at the same time that he planned to be on vacation, so he contacted his supervisors and asked them how to handle the situation, the Pharos Tribune reported.
Executive Secretary and Human Resources Representative Brittany Hicks rescheduled his test, which Deputy Shepherd completed after he returned from his vacation.
His test came back negative.
But problems arose when Hicks spotted photos from Deputy Shepherd’s vacation on Facebook, the Pharos Tribune reported.
Hicks realized that the deputy and his family had remained in Indiana for their vacation instead of traveling out-of-state like she assumed they planned to do.
Because he hadn’t left the state, missing the test was actually a violation of BCSO policy.
In April, Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen issued a mandate requiring all civilian and sworn members of his department to participate in COVID-19 testing, the Pharos Tribune reported.
Missing a mandatory coronavirus test would only be excused if the employee was traveling outside the state of Indiana, Sheriff Nielsen explained in several department emails.
On Apr. 20, a 24-year veteran employee of the sheriff’s office’s communications department became the first person to miss a mandatory COVID-19 test, the Pharos Tribune reported.
Sheriff Nielsen fired the employee after he refused to resign over the skipped test.
Four other Boone County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) employees have been fired for the same issue since the mandate was implemented, the Pharos Tribune reported.
Sheriff Nielsen said that he sent out a department-wide email about the reason behind at least one employee’s firing after getting permission from the employee to do so, seemingly implying that the BCSO staff should have been well aware of the consequences of missing a COVID-19 test.
When Hicks realized that Deputy Shepherd had not left the state for his family vacation, she alerted BCSO Major Brian Stevenson, the Pharos Tribune reported.
Upon confrontation, Deputy Shepherd told Maj. Stevenson that his family originally intended to go to Kentucky, but that they ultimately decided to remain in Indiana.
Sheriff Nielsen and the BCSO command staff unanimously agreed on July 22 that Deputy Shepherd deserved to be fired for violating the COVID-19 mandatory testing policy, the Pharos Tribune reported.
The deputy was placed on paid administrative leave until Wednesday, when the Boone County Sheriff’s Merit Board held a public hearing on the matter.
“I don’t know that it is reasonable to terminate someone over such, what I would say is a missight, and perhaps on my part, but I don’t think it is reasonable to suggest termination,” Deputy Shepherd testified, according to WRTV.
“I did not refuse to take a test, I did take a test, I didn’t miss my test. I took my test,” he told the board. “It was reasonable for me to believe that what I did was correct and what I did was follow a directive that I thought to be correct at the time.”
At the conclusion of the two-and-one-half-hour hearing, the board voted 4-1 to uphold Sheriff Nielsen’s recommendation to fire Deputy Shepherd, the Pharos Tribune reported.
“Nobody won here today,” Sheriff Nielsen said after the hearing concluded. “This is sad for him and it’s sad for us, but you have to make sure you hold people accountable for their actions.”
The sheriff said he also wanted to send a clear message that the novel coronavirus should be taken seriously.
“This virus is killing people, the positivity rate continues to go up, and we have to do everything we can to protect the people and the inmates that they have trusted me to care for and the public and mostly the staff,” he told WRTV. “We have to mitigate the threat of it coming into our jail. Affecting our inmates, affecting our staff and making sure that the enforcement deputies out there are protected from the public and we protect public from them as well.”
Now-former Deputy Shepherd can still appeal the board’s decision through the circuit court, according to the Pharos Tribune.