CU community reacts to fake vaccine card scandal

Vermont State Police troopers Raymond Witowski, David Phindel, and Shawn Sommers have all resigned after being accused of forging vaccine cards.

Those who are put in place to enforce the laws are increasingly being found to be breaking them has been showing up too often in the media lately. 

Back early in September, three Vermont State Troopers resigned for involvement in fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards. 

“I’m embarrassed that this situation has occurred and know that it has tarnished the reputation of the Vermont State Police,” Col. Matthew T. Birmingham said in a statement released on Sept. 7.   

Troopers, Shawn Sommers and Raymond Witkowski resigned back on Aug. 10  while David Pfindel did not resign until Sept. 3 after further investigation by the Department of Public Safety revealed his involvement. 

“It’s disappointing that the people put in place to enforce the law are actively breaking the law,” said Brad Hunt, a professor of criminal justice at Castleton University. 

The investigation was handed over to the FBI and the U.S Attorney’s Office in Burlington for further investigation of whether more people obtained fake vaccination cards from these troopers. 

There was no comment from the Vermont State Police on the matter in August due to the investigation and would not comment any further due to the ongoing investigation. 

If the FBI and the District Attorney’s investigation find these officers guilty, they could be facing federal charges for making or buying counterfeit cards

According to the FBI, if found guilty, the officers can be fined and serve up to five years in prison. 

On Sept. 8, Gov. Phil Scott announced that all executive branch employees would be required to show proof of vaccination or be subject to mandatory testing and mask-wearing at work. 

Criminal Justice students at Castleton reacted the same as Hunt did with a feeling of disappointment. 

“It was shocking, already with the political climate with police officers right now, it shows more mistrust towards the law enforcement community,” said Ethan Kelleher a sophomore criminal justice major. 

Ben Reid added to the shocking and disappointment feelings as well. 

“Police officers haven’t been in the best light in the past two years, and this doesn’t give a good look to the policing profession,” said Reid, also a criminal justice major at Castleton University. 

These actions just add to the bad media coverage that the police have been getting recently since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in June of 2020. 

“I am curious about the motivation behind their actions and if the officers thought about the effect this would have on other officers,” Hunt said. 

Hunt added that the positive to take out of this situation was that other officers turned in these individuals when they saw this bad behavior, which in the past would not have been acceptable. 

“Based on an initial internal review, we do not believe there is anything more the state police could have done to prevent this from occurring,” Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said in the press release from the Vermont State Police on Sept. 7. 

Officers working with these three individuals were made aware of the misconduct and immediately reported the behavior to the proper internal administrators who reported the information to federal authorities. 

The police, in the past, have had this sub-culture of protecting each other behind the “blue wall of silence,” Hunt said. 

The blue wall of silence was developed in policing to protect fellow officers from punishment from misconduct or wrongdoings. 

“One way to avoid this is to be more open and up front within the department to avoid hiding misconduct,” Reid added. 

Hunt agreed with Reid 

“That’s the solution, having the moral courage to speak up when seeing unethical actions by co-workers,” Hunt explained 

Focusing on professional ethics is most important right now for students interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, according to Hunt. 

Birmingham, the State Police colonel, added that these actions do not represent the Vermont State Police as a whole. 

“The alleged criminal conduct from these troopers does not represent the values and actions of the dedicated men and women of the Vermont State Police,” Birmingham said

The State Police are not commenting further on the matter due to the ongoing investigation. 

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