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New police officer hires approved by Select Board, but opposition to COVID vaccine raises concern

by | Jul 12, 2022 | Featured: News, News, Police & Fire

New HPD officers

New Hopkinton police officers Tyler Staback (third from left) and Alexander Stewart (third from right) are joined by Police Chief Joseph Bennett (center) and other officers Tuesday night. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

The Select Board approval process for police officer candidates generally moves quickly, but Tuesday presented a new scenario for the board.

One of the two candidates, Tyler Staback, had worked as a Massachusetts State Trooper since January 2019 until this past April, when he was dishonorably discharged after failing to adhere to the state’s mandate that troopers be vaccinated for COVID-19, he shared.

Staback explained that he attempted to claim a religious exemption to the mandate.

“I had to either go against my beliefs or stick through it to the end, through the trial boards,” he said. “They found me to not have religious beliefs and they terminated me.”

Added Staback: “It’s definitely unfortunate the way things panned out, but I have my own beliefs and I stood by them.”

During a round of questioning from the Select Board, member Mary Jo LaFreniere said she planned to abstain from the vote, telling Staback, “I object to your reason for being let go with the State Police.”

Staback said he was sensitive to people’s concerns and is careful around others, especially his family, including his 94-year-old grandmother.

“I take extreme caution being around my loved ones that may be susceptible,” he said. “I’ve been tested countless times, anytime I visit relatives. Many of my family have came down with [COVID] and had it previously. So, I don’t take for granted people’s perceptions of the whole situation. But I do what I can to keep those around me safe.”

Staback, who has a degree in criminal justice and served as a Marine for six-plus years, said he worked through the pandemic without any issues and never came down with the virus.

“When the order came out in the very beginning of the pandemic, when they had the lockdowns and things like that, I still had to go to work every day and be out in the public,” he said. “And it was a privilege to serve the public even during that time, even though there was a lot of unknowns.

“But then when the order [to get vaccinated] came out, nothing changed beside the date. Even leading up to my suspension, they were still forcing me on [double shifts]. It’s difficult the way things panned out. But they had me working wearing a mask, and if I was symptomatic staying home, getting tested, things like that.”

Added Staback: “There are precautions I would take to keep others safe, and that’s what I did for two years. So when that order came out it was just a date that set it in stone that kind of got things rolling in that case.”

Police Chief Joseph Bennett said he was comfortable with the decision to present Staback to the board.

“As the department head, we did a thorough background [check],” Bennett said. “And other than that instance, the decision he made, nothing came up. … He presents as a service-oriented person. Nothing raised any red flags on social media that that belief [to pass on the vaccine] was tied to anything other than the belief that he didn’t want to get it. We do not have a vaccine mandate in town. And we have employees that are unvaccinated. And we don’t ask.

“At my level, as a department head, I felt it was the appropriate thing to do to bring him forward.”

In the end, the Select Board vote was three in favor of the hiring, with LaFreniere and Irfan Nasrullah abstaining.

“I just would really like the opportunity to serve this community and I’m very eager to get back out there on the road and serve the public,” Staback said.

The other candidate, Alexander Stewart, was a patrol officer for the Springfield College Police Department from October 2020 until November 2021, before attending the Boylston Regional Police Academy.

Stewart, who has two young children, said his family is Lebanese and his father is Jamaican.

“I come from a very diverse background and I know how to deal with different types of people,” he said. “I played on the football team in college [and there are] different types of backgrounds. I know how to speak to everyone, and I can help anyone in any way possible.”

Asked about his interest in Hopkinton, Stewart said, “It’s a growing town that I want to be a part of.”

He was approved 5-0.

10 Comments

  1. Brian

    Their concern should be why a dozen officers have left in the last 2 years… I’m sure after this warm welcome it won’t be long until this officer leaves also! Good job select board

    Reply
    • Micah

      Staback clearly has the character, honor, and courage to stand firm in his convictions at great personal cost. That’s the kind of cop I would want protecting me when needed! Shame on the Mass State Police and Governor Baker for what they have done to Staback and his family and the other HONORABLE Troopers who were disciplined for not taking a shot that neither prevents infection or the spread of Covid.

      Reply
  2. Lisa Jones

    I think it’s relevant to mention that the state police denied ALL religious exemptions, allowed no appeals to the denials, and are facing ligation for discrimination due to it. The town is lucky to have him- sad that a few uninformed board members risked the town losing out on an experienced, dedicated officer just so they could grandstand.

    For anyone curious or wanting to better understand his “dishonorable discharge” I recommend googling the person responsible for it (the current colonel- Christopher Mason) and his handling of the mandate. It is just ONE of the major scandals he has had in the short time he has held the position… the corruption behind the scenes currently at the state police is unbelievable. The “dishonorable discharge” is frankly meaningless coming from the state police currently.

    Reply
    • Josh ulrich

      A courageous chief Bennett hiring an excellent police officer!

      Strange how there persists bigotry and fear mongering against the unvaxed long after these Covid vaccines have been shown not to stop the spread.

      A great choice hiring Staback, Chief Bennett and three selectmen in favor!

      Reply
  3. Sherri

    He has his right to choose ….
    His body his right .

    Reply
  4. Kelly

    To the two on the board who abstained- it is time to actually follow the science. You have been misled on efficacy and safety. Period. It should be a privilege to have someone with discernment patrolling Hopkington.

    A little humility would go a long way.

    Reply
    • Alden Partridge

      When you learn how to correctly spell the name of the town, the rest of us here will consider the validity of your comments. The science speaks to the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. You should spend more time on spelling than science.

      Reply
  5. Jean

    I believe that a public servant, such as a police officer, should have to obey the directives of his department. I am not happy that this individual put himself above the requirements, and am not sure how this makes him a good fit for our police department.

    Reply
  6. Lisa Jones

    You are uninformed about the circumstances. He did “obey the directives of his department”. He requested a religious exemption and was wrongfully denied, without the option to appeal. He is a victim of discrimination and has a case against the state police with MCAD. I’m not sure about you Jean, but I think having the courage and fortitude to withstand relentless discrimination and retaliation by a state level organization makes for an ideal fit for any police department.

    Reply
    • Alden Partridge

      He wasn’t wrongfully denied and he is not a victim of discrimination. When you serve the public, you do so in the interest of the greater public good- and I speak from extensive experience. That means service above self. He clearly didn’t learn that in the Marine Corps. There’s nothing courageous about what he did, and there was no retaliation involved. He experienced the consequences of his decision – nothing more. He’s not a victim. He’s a shirker of his greater civic responsibility that he claims to embrace. Bennett putting him forward speaks volumes about his utter lack of leadership and understanding his basic responsibility to set a good example.

      Reply

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