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Leader of Boston city workers group opposing vaccine mandate placed on leave

Police Sergeant Shana Cottone (center) protest the new vaccine mandate at City Hall.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

A Boston police sergeant who has been an outspoken critic of Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city workers was placed on leave by the Boston Police Department just days before the requirement goes into effect.

Sergeant Shana Cottone was placed on administrative leave due to an internal affairs investigation that is “active and ongoing,” said Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman. Boyle declined to comment further.

Cottone, a 14-year-veteran of the department, said two internal affairs officers visited her home early Saturday morning to inform her she had been placed on leave and took her gun and badge.


Cottone said the officers did not tell her why she was being put on leave, leading her to believe that the decision is a reprimand for her criticism of Wu’s mandate, which requires all city workers to have at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by Jan. 15 and a second dose by Feb. 15, unless they have a medical or religious exemption. The mandate eliminates the option to undergo weekly testing in lieu of getting vaccinated.

“To be targeted this way for having an opinion and speaking out, silencing dissenting voices, that’s not how things are done in a democratic republic,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday night. “Good ideas flourish and bad ideas die through public discourse. ... You let that whole process play out. But to silence someone so they can’t put their ideas out there, that’s tyrannical, that’s totalitarianism. This is exactly what we’re fighting against.”

Wu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Sunday night.

Cottone leads Boston First Responders United, which counts Boston police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers among its membership. The group has been disseminating information on how workers can file for an exemption from the mandate. It has also organized marches and demonstrations against the mandate.


Boston police and firefighters unions filed a lawsuit last month seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the policy from being implemented.

Cottone’s union, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, said it is looking into whether the action taken by the department is justified.

“While we do not always share the manner, tone, or language this individual has used to criticize the policy and city officials, the timing of this action by the city raises questions, as it occurred just a few days before a court hearing to enforce an agreement allowing supervisors to submit to a weekly test lieu of a vaccine,” the federation said in a statement.

“We will be investigating supervisor’s placement on leave and ensuring that this member, like all employees in the city, receives due process, including a clear explanation of charges, and a fair and objective investigation.”

Cottone said she was prepared for her job to be in jeopardy once the Jan. 15 deadline comes to pass. Being placed on leave the week before the deadline came was a shock, she said.

“To have this happen is a total out-of-left-field snipe attack,” she said. “It’s purely political. Even if [the Wu administration] didn’t call for this to occur, they’re allowing it to occur.”

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com.