Updated 2 pm
Crossing guard Stephen Nichols, who was relieved of duty on Sept. 20 for alleged threats to the Tisbury School and restored to that post on Columbus Day after his ouster became public and set off a nationwide firestorm of protest, has yet to have his license to carry firearms reinstated and his guns returned, almost three months after the incident.
Public records in the case were finally handed over last week after the state supervisor of public records ordered their release based on an appeal by The Times. The records, which were withheld in their entirety initially on the advice of the town’s attorney, are partially redacted. Stephen Nichols’ name is blacked out throughout, but inexplicably the last name of a witness was left in the report by the town’s attorney, Brian Maser.
The records show that Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio revoked Nichols’ license before ever speaking to him about the alleged threat. During an interview Tuesday, Saloio explained the revocation provided some leverage in case Nichols did not cooperate with the investigation — a scenario he didn’t expect, based on previous interactions with the former police officer.
Saloio said Nichols completed the necessary paperwork about two weeks ago, and his license application is working its way through the state system. Saloio said he doesn’t anticipate any roadblocks to Nichols getting his license reinstated or his guns back.
Nichols would have to file an appeal of the revocation Dec. 19, which remains a possibility if the license doesn’t issue prior to that.
Police reports in the case show it took two days for Nichols’ comment to be reported to police.
A waitress at Linda Jean’s, whose name is redacted in the report, was said to have overheard Nichols utter the alleged threat on Sept. 18. However. a witness statement included with police reports indicates Nichols spoke directly to the waitress. Police interviewed the waitress, Saloio said, but that is not mentioned in the reports because the investigation didn’t result in criminal charges. Prior to that witness statement being made, Saloio was approached outside Tisbury Town Hall on Sept. 20, a report shows, by a man whose name is redacted in all but one place in the police report.
“[The man] stated his [redacted] informed him that [redacted] stated he could easily ‘shoot up the Tisbury Elementary School,’” a report states, “based upon the fact that Officer [Scott] Ogden left the school after he attended to [redacted] at 8:15 am each morning, and didn’t return until 11 am.”
The subsequent witness statement was made Friday, Sept. 20, at 2:20.
“While serving [redacted] he told me that Officer Scott Ogden should not have that job [school resource officer]. He said that after he is done with [redacted] he is down [at] [X]tra Mart drinking coffee. He then went on to say that if he were to ‘go in and shoot up the school’ he (Scott) wouldn’t be able to stop him. I then said ‘don’t do that Steve’ and then I walked away.”
Det. Max Sherman signed the statement as a witness to it. The signature of the statement’s author is redacted.
Saloio verified Nichols had a valid license to carry firearms.
“I then revoked the permit and directed Detective Sherman to accompany me to [redacted] so as to speak with him,” a report states. “Officer Gomes was directed to meet us there, so she [could] relieve [redacted] and maintain a presence at the crosswalk.”
During Tuesday’s interview, Saloio explained he revoked the license for safety’s sake. He did it knowing that it wouldn’t cost Nichols an application fee to get it reinstated if there was a reasonable explanation for what he was quoted as saying by the waitress.
“There are certain comments now that you have to take some sort of action for,” Saloio said. “Revoking somebody’s permit or suspending somebody’s permit, it sounds exceptionally harsh. But in reality, it’s a keyboard entry on a computer, and it’s as quickly rectified as an issue.”
In a letter accompanying the release of the police reports, Saloio wrote that a spate of national tragedies informed his thinking. “Over the past 20 years, we as a nation have suffered tremendous and heart-wrenching loss in our schools due to misuse of firearms,” he wrote. “Overwhelmingly, the communities in which these tragic events took place, we later learned, never suspected they would be victims of this type of carnage. Statements made in public by any person with regard to violence in our schools are not acceptable, and will always be investigated with the utmost concern for the safety of our children, teachers, and staff. As police chief, I will always work diligently in partnership with my officers to ensure this is done.”
Police reports indicate that after Nichols was relieved at his crossing guard post, Sherman and Saloio followed him to his home and spoke with him.
“We spoke with him in his kitchen,” a report states, “and I asked him if he had made any types of statements recently, while at Linda Jean’s, to the effect of it being easy to shoot up the Tisbury School. It should be noted my intention was to hopefully allow [redacted] to somewhat walk back, or put in better context, his alleged statements. Instead, [redacted] became quite angry with us, and informed Detective Sherman and… [redacted]… I then informed [redacted] that his License to Carry was being revoked and he was obligated to turn over to us all his firearms, ammunition, and LTC permit.”
Nichols was never charged, though Saloio told The Times that he informed Nichols such comments could result in a felony charge, but he was comfortable there was no intent.
Asked why he didn’t wait to revoke Nichols’ license until after speaking with him, Saloio said, “There were some questions about a very fiery personality of this individual. I was not sure he was going to be cooperative or not. I hoped he would be. But he wasn’t.”
Saloio went on to say, “If I go to your house and you don’t wish to speak to me, you don’t have to speak to me. You can shut that door, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Now I’ve left you with firearms. I’m not talking about Mr. Nichols specifically. I’m saying in general, now I’ve left an individual with firearms, potentially with hostility, knowing I’m coming back. Now I’m [leaving] the officers under my command with even more of a safety issue, which is not the way to do things. You print out that [revocation] letter and go to the house. Now if you don’t wish to cooperate, you have to, or you’re subject to arrest.”
Asked why someone who was perceived to have a “fiery personality” would be suitable as a crossing guard, Saloio suggested fiery didn’t translate into threatening. “I don’t think he’s a threatening personality. I think he’s very demonstrative. He gets angry, but I also know he’s a terrific crossing guard. And I also knew from the onset of this incident — which I think is unfortunate — he himself told me, as well as members of his family, he didn’t care about his firearms license.”
Edgartown attorney Dan Larkosh, who represents Nichols and who said he’s not yet received a copy of the police report, described Nichols’ alleged apathy toward wanting his license back as “fractured logic.” Larkosh said Nichols hired him, in part, to ensure the license was restored. Larkosh said he was also hired to get Nichols his job back.
A police report indicated Nichols was relieved of his job during the visit to his home by Sherman and Saloio.
“Once the firearms were located and turned over, I again spoke to [redacted]; he expressed to Detective Sherman and I [redacted]… [redacted] was also informed that it would no longer be appropriate for him to serve in the capacity of [redacted] based upon the totality of the circumstances.”
Larkosh attempted to shed light on those circumstances Wednesday, circumstances which are redacted in the police report. Larkosh told The Times Nichols is known by his family to commonly use the “flip” phrase: “Why don’t I just kill myself?” Larkosh said such an act was never his client’s intent, and a psychological evaluation after the police visited his home proved so by concluding Nichols posed no danger to himself. Larkosh alleges Nichols used the phrase once in the presence of police in a sarcastic manner, but that he did not say it multiple times, as police have alleged.
Saloio spoke about the issue of Nichols being a danger to himself or others after learning Larkosh had discussed it with The Times — saying he has no doubt Nichols never intended to hurt anybody or cause harm to himself. Saloio said the limited information he and the department had when they encountered Nichols in his home on Sept. 20, versus what was later learned, offered an altogether different perspective. Information that came later ”made it clear Nichols was not a threat to anyone, including himself,” the chief said.
Saloio said the Tisbury Police Department is aware that being a crossing guard is “a position we know he cares deeply about.” and the department is pleased he was able to return to it.
A day earlier, on Tuesday, Saloio would only say that despite the public outcry to the contrary, the seizure of the guns did not involve the state’s fledgling Red Flag Law, which allows guns to be confiscated under certain suspicions.
Nichols hasn’t directly commented on that part of the encounter.
Nichols previously told The Times he never intended to harm anyone at the Tisbury School, and that his comments were made because he perceived a security flaw. He said his training in the military during the Korean War taught him one never leaves his post, and he thought Ogden, Tisbury School’s resource officer, was leaving his post.
In his letter accompanying the police reports, Saloio wrote that Ogden is at the school each morning as a courtesy to assist in street crossings.
“This is not, nor ever has it been, part of Officer Ogden’s official daily school responsibilities,” he wrote.
Saloio also wrote Nichols was deemed “nonthreatening”, and shouldn’t be charged.
“At the conclusion of this incident, there was no information whatsoever that was determined by this agency to be substantial enough to merit seeking criminal charges against Mr. Nichols,” he wrote. “That is not to say that the reported information was not credible; it in fact was. However, the context in which it was relayed by Mr. Nichols was determined to be nonthreatening and require no further action on our part. Additionally, from the onset of this incident, there was always a plan, in collaboration with the town, to return Mr. Nichols to his position as crossing guard, after a period of time.”
Saloio said he never anticipated the incident would take on a life of its own that had anonymous commenters and emails from across the country labeling him anti-gun, and certainly not anti-military, with his family’s history. Some of the people who called or emailed described Saloio as a “brown shirt” or “Nazi.”
“My sister is a disabled veteran, my father was career military, my brother was a Marine — it’s just unbelievably vicious — because certain people were assuming that the firearms were confiscated because of what was said pertaining to violence in the school. And with that comes the assumption by some people, I think, that somebody is getting charged. So they would rightly ask — Well, why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that, why didn’t you do this? — when in reality the reason why those firearms were taken, especially for a prolonged period, had nothing directly to do with anything that was said with regard to violence in the school. Nothing.”
Updated with new information from attorney Dan Larkosh and Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio.