BOONE COUNTY — A Boone County Sheriff's Office deputy is without a job after a merit board terminated him for missing a scheduled COVID-19 test.
All employees must attend a scheduled COVID-19 test unless they are out of state. Sheriff Mike Nielsen says now-former Deputy Tobias Shepherd violated the policy.
Shepherd was a road patrol deputy and says he was in southern Indiana on a family trip when he missed his scheduled test.
"I don't know that it is reasonable to terminate someone over such, what I would say is a miss-sight, and perhaps on my part, but I don’t think it is reasonable to suggest termination,” Shepherd said during the hearing.
He told the merit board Wednesday that he was planning to be on vacation during his scheduled COVID-19 test. He said he reached out to a member of the command staff in advance asking what the procedure was. They then rescheduled his test.
The executive secretary, Brittany Hicks, said she assumed he was traveling out of the state.
Shepherd later posted photos showing he was in southern Indiana, not out of state, meaning he still needed to attended the initial test. Shepherd said he didn't think he needed to attend since it had already be rescheduled. He said it took it after his trip.
"I did not refuse to take a test, I did take a test, I didn’t miss my test. I took my test,” Shepherd said. “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.”
Nielsen disagreed, saying the COVID-19 testing policy had been emailed to employees and it was made clear that the only exception was leaving the state. Five civilian employees have also been terminated for missing their scheduled COVID-19 tests.
"We need to make sure that the message is very clear out there that 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 and that's what this is about, making sure we do that," Nielsen said. “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 the public from them as well.”
While Nielsen says it's not an easy decision to recommend an employee’s termination, he feels like it was the right thing to do.
"It's tough right, anytime you have to get rid of people, especially in this community, you're friends with everybody. So it's very hard to do," Nielsen said.