Stephen Nichols wasn’t convicted of a crime. No judge signed a “red flag” order. There wasn’t even a hearing. Nichols’ constitutional rights were stripped and his firearms confiscated after an out-of-context comment was overheard by a waitress at a local diner.
Tisbury, Ma., Police Chief Mark Saloio seized the 84-year-old’s firearms—and fired him from his job as a crossing guard—after receiving a tip from a diner employee. The waitress had heard Nichols complain that the Tisbury School resource officer had been “leaving his post” and visiting a nearby convenience store while the children were filing into class.
In that conversation, Nichols told a friend that someone could “shoot up the school” in that officer’s absence.
That’s all it took.
Chief Saloio fired Nichols from his job as a crossing guard while Nichols was helping kids cross the street and told him that what he said was a “felony.”
“He came up and told me what I said was a felony but he wasn’t going to charge me,” Nichols told the MV Times.
Saloio later drove to Nichols’ house and demanded that he hand over his license to own firearms. The police chief confiscated the man’s firearms, which were subsequently turned over to Nichols’ son-in-law. Nichols says he never received any paperwork or receipts for his confiscated license or firearms.
He clarified the comments he made in an interview with the MV Times.
“When I was in the United States Army, and it wasn’t just me, it’s anybody who’s in the United States service, if you are on guard duty for eight hours, you didn’t leave that position,” Nichols said. “And I’m just so accustomed to that, that when I see someone who’s suppose to be protecting kids…leave the school unguarded — if you’re on guard duty, you stay there.”
Those who heard Nichols’ comments and who know him say the idea that he would threaten to harm children is patently false.
The diner’s owner, Marc Hanover, called the situation “absolutely outrageous.” He said he believes one of his servers “overreacted.”
The man who was speaking with Nichols, Andy Marcus, also described the situation as “absurd.” Marcus told the MV Times that Nichols did not threaten the school but was worrying that the resource officer was leaving the children potentially exposed.
The police department and local government have refused to comment on the situation, and requests for the police report have been stonewalled.
“There’s nothing that I can legally discuss about the matter. Period,” Chief Saloio told the MV Times.
Town administrator Jay Grande confirmed that Nichols had been removed as a crossing guard but wouldn’t comment further.
“In response to your inquiry, I want to acknowledge that a crossing guard was removed from active status pending a review of personnel related concerns,” he wrote. “I will not have any further comment on this matter.”
Nichols has retained a lawyer but appears unconvinced that he’ll be successful in restoring his Second Amendment rights.
“My grandson is manager of a gun shop in Worcester, Mass and he’s going to be allowed to come down and take the weapons and sell them for me,” he told the MV Times.
Nichols served as a Tisbury police officer for six decades and in the United States Army during the Korean War. He’s also been licensed to own firearms since 1958 and has never committed any firearms violations.
More importantly, he wants his community to know that he would never threaten kids.
“I would never, ever, ever, harm a child,” he said.
Update (10/17/19): Nichols has been reinstated as a crossing guard, according to the MV Times. The newspaper reported that the story garnered “never before seen” activity on the paper’s webpages, and Chief Saloio noted the “outpouring of support” in his statement to the paper:
“The town, collectively, has expressed an outpouring of concern about Mr. Nichols, and his employment as a school crossing guard. We as well share those concerns. We wish to make you aware that today, Mr. Nichols was informed that he may return to his crossing guard duties tomorrow morning,” Saloio wrote in an email to The Times. “This return to work was always pending upon a final review that was in process. Throughout this period, Mr. Nichols has retained his position as a crossing guard for the town. However, these reviews are thorough and complete, and neither immediate nor instantaneous.”
There is no word on whether Nichols will have his firearms and license returned.