Investigators’ report of Oakboro police chief shares details of COVID vaccine ‘clinic’

Published 8:02 pm Wednesday, December 22, 2021

A published report from a Charlotte media outlet details conversations regarding the investigation of Oakboro Police Chief T.J. Smith.

According to a tweet from a news anchor with WSOC-TV, Smith was questioned by Blue Chameleon Investigations, a private investigations firm in Matthews. On Wednesday afternoon, two photos of a two-page document were tweeted by the anchor detailing the firm’s investigations into Smith.

The report, credited to Merl Hamilton of BCI, stated the investigator spoke with Stanly County Sheriff Jeff Crisco Dec. 15 regarding a conversation Crisco had with Oakboro Town Commissioner Mike Efird. According to the report, Efird said a Highway Patrol officer, whose name was redacted from the report, was made aware of an upcoming vaccine clinic in Oakboro “that involved people being able to self vaccinate in a private room and therefore did not actually have to receive the shot to gain a vax card.”

Two troopers, the report states, were given information on the clinic by Smith, while N.C. Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Barry Baucom was also aware of this. Hamilton spoke to all three troopers on Dec. 15.

The next day, Hamilton met with both troopers in Albemarle, one of whom stated in the report Smith told the two troopers about the “vax clinic on the 16th.” (The report does not mention the specific date of the clinic.) The report further states Smith told troopers attendees of the clinic “would have the option to self-inject the vaccine in that they would be given a syringe and go into a bathroom where they could self-inject or dispose of the vaccine.”

A trooper also said Smith told them there was an arrangement with the pharmacist giving the shot in terms of the person being able to get a vax card whether they self-injected or disposed of the vaccine in the toilet or trash can. The trooper also stated Smith said the cost was $50 or whatever a person could afford to pay.

The report stated Smith was questioned by Hamilton Dec. 17, and was read his Garrity rights, which protect public employees from incriminating themselves during interviews which are part of an investigation.

Smith, according to the reports, was told by Chris Wiley, owner of Tuscan Ridge, a wedding venue on East Eighth Street, about the clinic. The report states Wiley told Smith the details of the clinic, including the cost and the option of taking or disposing of the vaccine.

According to the report, Smith eventually admitted “upon reflection and after doing research” that he “knew this ‘self-injection’ procedure was against rules.” The report states Smith said he reached out to the two troopers because they were “anti vax,” saying he “felt this would be helpful to them since SHP has a vax mandate.”

Smith also was reported as having said he was vaccinated and “didn’t have a horse in this race” and said the name of the clinic operators were Vax Van of Concord.

The report also said two Oakboro officers were interviewed during the investigation. (These names were also redacted.) Those officers stated the clinic came up in conversation during a Christmas party for the Oakboro Police Department and that Smith “described to them the clinic including the self-injection in a private room part (sic), date and location.” The Oakboro officers were also read their Garrity rights.

In a phone call Wednesday, Smith said he had no comment on the report.

Smith, who has been police chief since August 2016, was placed on administrative leave Dec. 14 pending an investigation.

A letter obtained from Oakboro Town Administrator Doug Burgess details further 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:

“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.”

The Stanly News & Press has reached out to the district attorney’s office and the State Bureau of Investigation to see if either agency is investigating. On Wednesday, Ginger Efird, administrative assistant for the DA’s office, said as far as she knows the office has not received a request for an investigation.

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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