Stephen Nichols reinstated as crossing guard

After tsunami of online support, former Tisbury cop says he’ll return to the kids ‘I love.’

 

A Tisbury School crossing guard who had been relieved of duty and had his personal firearms confiscated for alleged threats to the Tisbury School was reinstated to his position on Columbus Day morning. Stephen Nichols was pulled from his post Sept. 20 after a waitress at Linda Jean’s Restaurant allegedly overheard Nichols make threats to the school two days earlier. Nichols has staunchly denied he threatened the school, and said he was pointing out what he deemed a hole in school security. 

Nichols’ ouster and the seizure of his firearms generated social media activity never before seen on Martha’s Vineyard Times webpages, including links on gun activist and law enforcement pages, and tens of thousands of Facebook hits. On the same day Nichols was reinstated, an online petition circulated demanding Nichols be allowed to return to his crossing guard duties.

Stephen Nichols, 84, of Tisbury, who said his career with the Tisbury Police spanned six decades and he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War as a Morse code specialist, told The Times he had criticized Tisbury School Resource Officer Scott Ogden in a conversation with a friend. He said the conversation was taken out of context. That conversation allegedly occurred Sept. 18, and was reported on Sept. 20, the same day Nichols was relieved, according to police. 

On Oct. 15, Nichols returned to his twice-daily post at the crosswalk on the corner of Spring and Pine Streets by the office of the Martha’s Vineyard superintendent of schools. Numerous motorists waved, beeped, or gave Nichols the thumbs-up as they passed. As students began to trickle down the sidewalk, Nichols offered them Life Savers candies whether they crossed or continued walking on the sidewalk. A handful of staffers from the superintendent’s office came outside and watched Nichols perform his duties. Nichols told The Times he was glad to be back helping the students. 

In a statement released Monday, Police Chief Mark Saloio, who was actively involved in the investigation of Nichols, said he was never fired, but his job was under review.
“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.”

Nichols had expressed concerns at Linda Jean’s that Ogden was leaving his post at the Tisbury School to go to XtraMart. The chief defended Ogden in his written statement.

“Please know that Officer Ogden performs his duties as the assigned school resource officer, for our elementary school, at a consistently high level. He continues to be dedicated and works hard, in partnership with all of the school staff, to keep our children safe every day,” Saloio wrote. “This department appreciates any and all concerns brought to our attention through the proper channels so that we may help and assist everyone in the best way possible.”

Dan Larkosh of the Edgartown firm Larkosh and Jackson represents Nichols. He said he is pleased Nichols was reinstated. Nevertheless, he intends to file an appeal of the decision by Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio to seize guns owned by Nichols, as well as his license to carry. Larkosh said his firm has received repeated offers to contribute to Nichols’ legal costs, including from some national organizations. 

Saloio initially declined to comment when approached at the Tisbury Police Station. He later told The Times, “There’s nothing that I can legally discuss about the matter. Period.” The police department has also refused to release the police report from the investigation, citing the “personnel” exemption of the public records law.

Saloio’s comment about Nichols’ status doesn’t clearly match the crossing guard’s previously stated understanding of his status, nor how Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande responded when The Times asked if a crossing guard had been terminated. “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,” Grande wrote. “I will not have any further comment on this matter.”

At a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, Saloio was backed and commended by the board, with the caveat there was room to refine some practices. Board chair Melinda Loberg specifically praised the chief’s handling of the situation. “We are very much in support of the work you’ve done recently, and the hard decisions you’ve had to make following police protocol to exercise your responsibilities as a police force,” she said. “The atmosphere has changed. We all need to get used to some new perspectives, some new requirements of the state, and I think the selectmen here are in full support of the work you do.”

“It’s important for everyone to remember those requirements protect everyone,” Saloio said.

Selectmen Jim Rogers and Jeff Kristal also offered support, both extending that support to Ogden, the school resource officer, brought up in the controversy.

“Out of every situation comes a learning opportunity. I think it’s important for us and the school committee to educate the public on just what a school resource officer is,” Rogers said. “There’s a lot of confusion on what a school resource officer does, and it’s not to act as an armed guard, unlike what popular opinion is.”

Later, Kristal suggested the board needs to improve internal and external communication. Selectmen knew nothing about the incident involving Nichols ahead on Friday’s initial story in The Times.

 

What led to crossing guard’s removal?

Nichols said he was unimpressed with Ogden’s alleged trips to XtraMart when children came to school in the morning. While dining at Linda Jean’s Sept. 18, Nichols said, he told a friend about this, and suggested somebody could “shoot up the school” in that officer’s absence, which he described as “leaving his post.” 

Nichols said the waitress made a complaint to Tisbury Police about what she overheard, and on the strength of that, Saloio and another officer relieved Nichols of his crossing guard duties while he was in the midst of performing them, and subsequently drove to his home and took away his firearms license and guns. 

“He came up and told me what I said was a felony, but he wasn’t going to charge me,” Nichols said of Saloio. 

The confiscated guns were later turned over to Nichols’ son-in-law, Nichols told The Times.

Asked if he was given a letter or any paperwork for the seizure of his license, Nichols said, “No, he just told me to hand it over, so I took it out of my wallet and handed it to him.”

Nichols said he has been licensed for firearms since 1958.

A petition on the website change.org arose over Columbus Day Weekend seeking to reverse Nichols’ ouster. To do so, “Pamela Salt,” a Vineyard petitioner, according to the site, called on Tisbury selectmen Jeff Kristal, Jim Rogers, and chair Melinda Loberg, along with Tisbury School Principal John Custer, Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea, town administrator Grande, and Chief Saloio.

“Please reinstate Mr. Nichols as a Tisbury School crossing guard so he can get back to his joy of helping the children get to and from school safely and with a smile,” the petition reads. “As a well-loved, retired, senior citizen, Mr. Nichols finds great happiness in this job, and we’re sure the children miss seeing him as much as he misses helping them! The entire situation appears to be a great misunderstanding, and with the restoration of his job and his LTC, Mr. Nichols (and our community) can put this terrible event behind him, and focus on moving past the trauma and embarrassment of these events. We stand with Mr. Nichols!”

As of 11 am on Columbus Day, the petition had garnered about 800 signatures out of a goal of 1,000.

At the same time the petition met that mark Columbus Day morning, Nichols met with Grande and Saloio at the Tisbury Police Station.

“All they were interested in was, Did I want my job back, and I said ‘yes,’” Nichols said. 

Nichols described Grande and Saloio as being in “a very good mood,” but that they did not offer any detail as to why Nichols’ crossing guard job was being reinstated. 

While Nichols said he doesn’t own a computer or cell phone and is therefore not directly privy to the online support he’s received, he said his daughters have kept him apprised of it.

Of the support he said, “I appreciate that, and I’m really, really happy that I have it.”

In a lengthy interview with The Times, Nichols explained his concern about Tisbury School.

“When I was in the U.S. Army, and it wasn’t just me, it’s anybody who’s in the U.S. 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 supposed to be protecting kids … leave the school unguarded — if you’re on guard duty, you stay there.”

Tisbury School Principal John Custer told The Times he was familiar with Nichols as a crossing guard, but when asked if he knew of Nichols’ situation, Custer responded by saying crossing guards are “hired, trained, and scheduled entirely by the police department.”

Asked if anyone had complained about Ogden going on coffee breaks, Custer said, “None whatsoever.”

Ogden did not return a message seeking comment.

Linda Jean’s owner Marc Hanover said he’s known Nichols for decades, and vouched for his integrity. He described the situation as “absolutely outrageous.” He said he believes one of his servers “overreacted.” Hanover said he spoke with the restaurant patron who had conversed with Nichols at the time of the alleged threats.

“He assured me there was never a threat made,” Hanover said.

That patron, Edgartown resident Andy Marcus, described the situation as “absurd.” Marcus confirmed Nichols did not threaten the school, but pointed out that Nichols thought Ogden was having coffee at XtraMart and leaving the students potentially exposed. Marcus said he has known Nichols for years, and often talks with him at the counter of Linda Jean’s. He said nobody at that restaurant but one server holds the opinion Nichols possibly posed a threat to the Tisbury School. Marcus said in addition to being a longtime special police officer, Nichols was a court officer and a constable. “He loves kids,” Marcus said. “It’s almost like of all the people …”

Nichols said he’s never been accused of threatening a school, and never had a firearms violation. “I’ve got no record of any violations,” he said. 

Nichols said he never carries guns outside the house, and would like to have his license and his guns back, but the fate of the guns may be sealed. “My grandson is manager of a gun shop in Worcester, and he’s going to be allowed to come down and take the weapons and sell them for me,” he said. 

Nichols said he has 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. “I would never, ever, ever, harm a child,” he said. 

Nichols lost his wife two years ago, and values his crossing guard work as a connection to the outside world. “I just need something to do to get out of the house, and I love the kids,” he previously said. 

“We would expect reasonable minds to prevail, and [Nichols] to be reinstated in his job,” Larkosh said on Oct. 11. That expectation came true. Nichols said he’ll be “back with the kids I love.” 

George Brennan contributed to this report.

60 COMMENTS

  1. Let us discuss the cost & efficiency of having a “school resource officer” at all.
    Let’s compare the cost of having a police officer on-premises, doing basically nothing all day, with installing means, perhaps a ‘panic button’, in the classrooms & other school facilities, that could alert authorities of a REAL emergency at the school. Perhaps such technology could inform dispatchers/responders of the location of the emergency, other ‘panic buttons’ engaged, and possibly open immediate 2-way communication, so the cops could respond in the event of such an occurrence.

    All of the arguments for having a cop at the school, ‘providing security’ and, somehow, ‘mentoring the kiddies’, have been shoved down the public’s throat without any kind of analysis of its actual EFFICIENCY.

    Isn’t Officer Ogden’s training being wasted on this assignment?

    Let’s, at long last, talk BOTTOM LINE.

    • I do believe we should also talk about the ‘discrepancy’ in Saloio’s statement. A chief not being forthcoming regarding his mistakes seems to be something a little more disturbing than Ogden standing at a school. How much money is going to be spent on lawsuits????

    • Bart–you seem to be forgetting that a single intruder armed with an assault weapon can do a tremendous amount of damage in seconds. Response time has to be immediate, and counted in seconds rather than minutes when saving lives in that kind of situation.

      • I see. Does not the same apply to Stop & Shop? How large a permanent detail of policemen will the grocery store require? OMG! The same could be said of MY HOUSE (Knock wood)!! Will I be quartering policemen? Fortunately, I have locks, cameras, an emergency plan, and a phone to call police if there’s a problem. Does the same not apply to the Tisbury School.

        So save the hand-wringing and “But what about the CHILDREN!!” for someone less able to see through such hoary tactics.

        Let’s keep the police patrolling the streets, and teachers and school administrators can keep a watchful eye out in the schools, the way it should be.

        SROs are inefficient & expensive. Cut the fat. Bring these overpaid police and their opaque machinations to heel.

  2. Nichols had no business grousing at Linda Jean’s to third parties. Officer Ogden does a fine job and Nichols smeared him. Nichols owes Ogden an apology. Nichols had a chain of command to report to if he had an issue, and he ignored it. Fundamentally, Nichols created his own mess. I would be ticked at him, too, if he didn’t follow procedure. Linda Jean’s is for breakfast, not churning dirty laundry.

    • new news– you gotta be kidding. Ever hear of the concept of free speech ? Or the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” ? What a ridiculous notion, that someone who is engaged in a private conversation would owe an apology to someone on active duty for abandoning his post. Nichols is a vet, i am a vet, and we know something about responsibility while protecting our children.
      But this brings up a bigger question.. What are the policies concerning the duties and responsibilities of the resource officer ?
      is it to make the parents feel good when they drop off and pick up the kids, or is it to protect the kids ?
      Do mass murderers only show up before or after coffee break ?

      • I’m a vet, my dad was a vet. His dad was a vet. My two sons are serving now. Being a vet has nothing to do with this. Freedom of speech has consequences, D3. Shoot your mouth off and get overheard? In this climate of “hear something, say something” I think it’s a shame a server at LJ’s gets vilified but a vet gets a pass for doing something inappropriate. And you know what — I bet VH followed procedure. He was relieved of duty, an investigation happened, and he was reinstated. Meanwhile, a town that can’t figure out what to do with a 1/2 mile of shore road takes to pitchforks over this topic. I think the town, and it’s citizens, have bigger issues to deal with.

    • It’s pretty bad when you cannot even engage in a private conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee without some eavesdropper taking parts of your conversation completely out of context and reporting you to the chief of police, who then completely overreacts.

    • Huh? In a free society, a man can’t talk with his friends about anything he wants? And you’re the one who gets to decide? I can only hope hope this was posted as a joke to rile people up. The whole thing was a no win for everyone involved.

  3. I would nominate Stephen Nichols to be the new chief of police. He seems much more rational than the one who currently holds the position.

    • deadhead– perhaps the general orders part of this watch are “to be there when the parents show up, and then do whatever you want”. Lots of “feel good”, no real substance.
      I’m with Nichols. Why does the resource officer leave? if he was not authorized to, he should be disciplined and made aware that is not ok.
      if he was authorized to leave , we need a change of policy.
      School shooters rarely announce when they will show up.

    • Did I miss something or are you and Nichols still fighting evil in Korea? It’s the TPD, not the US Army — general orders don’t apply. Folks seem to miss that Nichols started the gossip and scare. Bizarre to blame Ogden or the Chief. Hopefully Nichols has learned something and will just eat his breakfast at Linda Jean’s, not churn divisiveness. An 84 year old should know better.

      • new news—I have not said a word about Korea–
        I have asked what the policy is regarding the guarding of the school.
        perhaps i am missing something. That being that if in fact the community feels there is enough of a threat to our school that we should put a police presence there, we should not allow for !) a duty officer to leave his post, or 2) we do not feel enough of a threat to post an officer there.
        For the town to pretend we are guarding the school is a travesty–
        let’s get real. i am not blaming the chief, or Ogden for anyone- i want the kids protected— terrorist do not only strike only while a cop is there— if we view a threat, we heed to have full coverage–you are in fact churning divisiveness-
        “an 84 year old should know better” than to be concerned about the safety of the children that he has cared about for the last 60 years …. ? shame on you — shame on you..

        • Hello Don, I hope you don’t mind me going through you to thank you and everyone else that has been so supported of my father. I felt that if I replied to some commenters it could have got testy.(My son got a reprimand from George. Which by the way I agreed with) Even if people had used real names instead of screen names I wouldn’t probably know them. And wouldn’t care. I left 35 years ago. Anyone saying “big deal”… I agree. People that have mentioned about an old man gossiping…..all those that never have please step forward. Don, let me know if any did. And please Rosiegirl headlines entice the reader to…ahhhh READ!! Also read the caption under his second picture. It was used for the petition. The “cut” on his forehead was cancer!! Anyway Don I hope you were OK with me going through you. You are one of my favorite commenters on the Times. And I sincerely do appreciate all the support. Steve Nichols JR. And PROUD of it.

          • Steve Jr — no problem. I was quite pleased to see you dad back on his corner this morning. Please give him a hug from all his supporters. Thanks.

  4. Police Chief Mark Saloiol must be practicing to be a politician..great double speak there…for it until he was against it.

  5. All negativity aside one must give kudos to Tisbury for striving and succeeding to be the worst run town on the island. The have given Oak Bluffs a valiant and successful run for the title. Well played Tisbury, well played.

  6. So happy to see Steve smiling. It sure had to a few tough days for him. It all worked out in the end… reason took hold in our Vineyard community.

  7. An embarrassment of a Chief who fundamentally doesn’t understand the law or the community he is charged with protecting. A disgrace of a Town Administrator. I’ll bet they were in a “very good mood” to be across the table from Mr. Nichols on the holiday weekend; they’ll be asking for compensatory time off from the town. The mismanagement of this “investigation” will be referenced for years whenever Red Flag laws are discussed. And the lawsuits will continue…

  8. The new disgraceful Chief, Ogden and the Town Administrator ALL must be replaced forthwith.
    Tisbury selectmen get off your butts, do your jobs, show some leadership and guts!
    How much embarrassment, harassment and low moral in our leadership do us Tisbury residents have to put up with. We need to all wake up, get real people to run for office, people who have real concerns to make real changes, improve morale and make some real positive progress.
    You all just clearly saw how outraged and disgusted not only Tisbury residents are but the entire island as well!
    Let this be a lesson to you that this is the last draw. We demand positive change and we want it immediately if not sooner!

  9. I admit, I look forward to the Times every week. However, I’m appalled that they were so eager to print this story with a catchy headline. The picture with the first article is of Steve with a cut on his forehead and not looking that great. Then with the new story it’s a much better picture with Mr. Nichols smiling, coincidence?

    • Thank you for mentioning that. I pointed that out in a post after the first article came out. While I have no grievances with the Times, I was curious why the editor chose not to post it. That first headline with that first photograph had to have been printed with intent to prejudice readers. I cannot believe experienced newspaper people truly did not know that.

  10. I’m very happy Mr. Nichols got his post back, but I’m still waiting for the part where the chief walks up to him hat in hand and gives him back his carry license and firearms. So far, the only thing George Orwell got wrong was the exact year it would all go down. It’s horrible that Mr. Nichols survived military service and 6 decades of police duty only to be publicly humiliated by TPD and the town.

  11. Wow, Even InfoWars and The American Mirror picked up this story.
    A legend is born on Martha’s Vineyard…
    Never cave to the gossip mob.

  12. Imagine if there is more to the story that cannot be discussed in public due to personal file privacy issues.

  13. Can’t believe this even happened….if you can’t talk with a friend at lunch without worrying you are overheard and turned in to the police…what is this KGB Russia???

  14. What kind of cowards would remove their FACEBOOK page-that’s what it’s for – Community concerns-they will respond it’s down for routine maintenance-or some such nonsense- Unreal ! Oh sorry -that would be the Tisbury Police Dept “If you can’t take the heat-get out o the kitchen”

  15. I am grateful to the employee at Linda Jeans for having the courage to act on what she truly believed she heard. TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF SAFETY FOR OUR CHILDREN AND COMMUNITY SHOULD BE THE GUIDING PRINCIPLE FOR ALL OF US. There is no shame in making such a decision, only unbearable sorrow for all of us if what she thought she heard came to pass. Thank you person of courage!

    • the doc– I think nearly everyone agrees the Linda Jeans employee was correct to express her concerns. Good for her — It’s the chief that got it wrong.

  16. It was amazing to see all the support for Mr. Nichols on the Tisbury Police Department Facebook Page! Why did the Police Chief delete the profile? Isn’t everything on the TPD FB page public record and therefor not allowed to be deleted? Did they consult with their attorneys prior to deleting public records? That is concerning.

  17. It’s amazing that someone could make the Chief look good coming out of this, but the Selectmen certainly give him a run for his (our) money. Incompetent muppets.

  18. Methinks maybe the honorable selectmen have ingested some of that chipping lead paint no one knew about at the school if they actually believe the chief has done a good job.

  19. TPD Facebook page -now much worse- you can just selectively decide which posts you want and remove all the posts you deem negative-pure absurdity !

  20. “TPD Facebook page”, Sorry about the temporary hiding of our Facebook page but it was not being used as intended.
    Thank you for understanding.
    (Our Understanding?)
    ————————————————-
    We have a very sad, terrible situation here that cannot just be swept under the rug and or just fade away!
    I have and have had several family members in all types of law enforcement, military and everything that has happened here especially including the press (MV Times) must be severely and publicly addressed and dealt with!
    Tisbury PD and reporting via the MV Times has gone viral in a very negative manner that is just great.
    2 thumbs up to comments by Tizberry, 3FeetTall, Two Inch Fangs, OBGULL etc.
    We will see how soon the MV Times shuts down the comments on their article here.

    • We have no intention of shutting down comments on this story. You and a couple of other people have been asked to modify comments so they meet our guidelines.

  21. Meanwhile, Officer Ogden has remained professional and silent. A class act on his part. This despite the smear job he was subjected to at Linda Jean’s. Kudos to the Chief and the selectmen for acknowledging Ogden did nothing wrong. Let’s hope Nichols can keep to being a crossing guard and not a gossip. If he has future issues or concerns he should take it up with Ogden, the Chief or Selectmen.

  22. New News, it seems according to the island’s social FB pages that a majority of islanders have issues with Ogden, the Chief,the Selectmen and their administrator. That is not to mention all the negative comments on the news articles that went Viral around the country and on radio talk shows about this major injustice, the process and the motivation of the squealer before she had all the facts.
    It will be very interesting what happens as time goes on and how this all ends.

    • Vineyard Jane – what they have a problem with is their perception of what the SRO job is. It is not to be in the schools constantly. Often they are there for drop off and then on duty in school later… They leave the building. They may have to go on other calls. They are not armed guards on duty all day every day. The fact that the community THINKS that is what the job is has contributed to the unfair treatment of Officer Ogden. If people want the SRO in the school constantly, they are going to have to pay for that position one way or another, either with one less officer available in the community during that time or by hiring another officer for the school.

      • While I agree that one of the biggest issue is what the job of the SRO is, the job description needs to come from OFFICAL sources. Is the treatment unfair? Even police officers are human.The Selectmen are taking an arrogant stand, when they could be taking a calming direction. Nobody will be a winner here, but a lot of faith has been lost in Town leadership and their inability and unwillingness to work with the public concerns.

  23. As the dust settles from this latest stinkbomb from Tisbury Police and town administrators, let’s go forward focused on the one, best, first thing we can do to keep these rogues in check: WE NEED A CITIZENS POLICE REVIEW BOARD ASAP.

  24. This ‘chief’ and ‘town administrator’ insult our intelligence! They need to be relieved of their posts immediately, anything less by the board of selectmen would be unacceptable. Lack of communication between the BOS and department heads is an understatement of the century! I would also like to personally thank the blue ribbon panel that hired this chief.
    Thank you for allowing this embarrassing situation to grip our town. There were more than five people who applied for this job and you chose the one who had been turned down by no less than four other communities. Great work.

  25. Say goodbye to your beloved Red Flag laws. Tizzy will be the nation’s defense against that tyranny.

    • Yes. And yours weren’t waiting long at all. In this case, the person doing the moderating did not have electricity much of yesterday and was just able to power up electronics.

  26. The bigger question here is that this honored Veteran had both his First and Second Amendments rights violated by a Police Chief who is sworn to uphold them. Not only this, but the very same chief continues to violate this honorable man’s Constitutional rights by continuing to withhold his firearms from him. It is without question that this chief should not be allowed to continue in this role for the simple reason that he has ZERO respect for the highest laws of our land, which is, The Constitution of the United States of American, NOT your puny little insignificant local city ordinances.

    The lawsuits are coming people of Tisbury, Mass. The quicker your city counsel pulls their head out of their posterior and rides this America hating police chief out of town on a rail, the less the mass lawsuit destruction of your town will be.

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