Oakboro police chief suspended, responds to incident

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Oakboro Police Chief T.J. Smith has been disciplined by the town for actions regarding a “fake” COVID vaccination clinic.

A letter obtained by The Stanly News & Press from Oakboro Town Administrator Doug Burgess details actions taken by the town against Smith.

The town has placed Smith on two weeks of unpaid leave and six months of probation for “detrimental personal conduct including notifying law enforcement officers to attend a ‘clinic’ where they would be able to obtain proof of COVID-19 vaccination cards without being vaccinated.”

According to the letter, Smith violated sections of the town’s policy including “fraud, willful acts that endanger the property of others, and serving a conflicted interest.” The letter lists town police personnel policies Smith allegedly violated including “obedience to laws and rules and regulations, general conduct and competency.”

Smith, who was placed on administrative leave last week, received the letter dated Tuesday. He issued the following response via email to The SNAP:

T.J. Smith

“Many have asked me for details regarding my involvement in recent allegations. To make a long story short, in retrospect, I made a mistake. A friend called me with some information about a mobile vaccination clinic. It was a busy morning like every other busy morning. 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. 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.

“Having the benefit of hindsight now, it is obvious the entire process sounds questionable. I didn’t post it on social media, and I didn’t really sit back and think hard on it at that moment. It was just one person sharing the word with another.

“I’m not a doctor and not in the medical field. I don’t know much about the vaccine process or what’s involved. That’s what these clinics and such are for. Being in the military, I have taken many vaccinations without ever knowing what was in them or how they worked. I received my own Covid vaccines in the spring of this year from the VA hospital in Salisbury. I just try to help people where I can, and I passed on something that, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have.

“I’m owning that. It was a mistake, and I shared misinformation. That’s true. I wanted to say something about this before now, but with everything going on, it was best that I wait for the investigative process to conclude.

“I shared something that wasn’t true. I didn’t profit from it. I couldn’t possibly profit from it, and I didn’t do it from a place of malice. I care deeply about others, and I sincerely appreciate that I have a job that allows me to serve them and to see things improve in my community. We have the greatest people anywhere right here in Oakboro, and I hope they know my heart well enough to know that this came from a place of caring, that I realize I made a mistake now, and that they will allow me to continue serving in the best way I know how.”

Smith has been police chief since August 2016.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored four times by the North Carolina Press Association.

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