The Boston police sergeant who has spearheaded the resistance to Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees has a complicated history on the force that includes multiple internal affairs complaints sustained against her, one involving a drunken altercation, as well as documented instances of heroism, including helping an injured woman to the hospital after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
Shana Cottone, a 14-year veteran of the department, is currently on leave during an internal affairs probe. Her gun and badge were taken by internal affairs officers over the weekend, and Cottone is convinced the investigation is connected to her role in leading Boston First Responders United, a group that organized marches and demonstrations against the city’s vaccination mandate. The group says it has about 250 members, including police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers.
Last month, the group sent an e-mail to members explaining how to submit requests for religious exemptions and instructing them to file their paperwork at the same time on the morning before the vaccination deadline.
Police officials have acknowledged that Cottone is under investigation but have declined to say why. Sergeant Detective John Boyle, the department’s chief spokesman, said records about Cottone’s administrative leave are exempt from the state public records law because they “are associated with an active and ongoing internal investigation.”
Wu declined to discuss the matter on Monday.
GBH reported on Monday that Cottone said a written explanation of her administrative leave alleges she inappropriately recorded the mayor’s remarks at a police roll call at the B-3 station in Mattapan last month; inappropriately told an officer not to activate her body camera amid a demonstration at Wu’s home earlier this month; and resisted sending police protection to Wu’s home last month.
She told GBH the allegations are distorted, saying, for instance, that the third claim was born out of a joke she made following her forgetting to fill out certain paperwork. The department always had protection detail coverage for the mayor, she told the outlet.
On Tuesday, Cottone confirmed the nature of the allegations contained in the GBH report.
In a text message, she said the internal probe represented “a heinous political on me as a person.”
“They won’t stop me or silence me,” she said.
In 2017, then-police commissioner William Evans suspended Cottone for 30 days, of which Cottone was required to serve 10, for multiple sustained internal affairs charges. They included a 2011 incident in which Cottone failed to provide a name on request and did not provide medical attention to someone in her custody who had complained of an injury. Both those allegations violated department rules.
In April 2012, Cottone took a civilian in her department cruiser and allowed him to visit with a suspect without authorization, according to a settlement agreement that detailed her suspension. In late September of that year, she “engaged in a verbal and physical altercation while under the influence of alcohol,” the agreement stated.
The suspension resolved all three of those cases.
A 2017 People report, meanwhile, detailed that Cottone commandeered a van in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings to drive Roseann Sdoia, who was gravely injured by one of the explosions, to Massachusetts General Hospital. Sdoia wrote of that heroism in her memoir, “Perfect Strangers.”
Cottone was also hailed for bravery in 2015, when she evacuated several homeowners and a family pet from a burning building in the North End.
Under the vaccination mandate, city workers have until Jan. 15 to receive a first shot and until Feb.15 for the second dose, unless they are granted medical or religious exemptions. Wu announced the new rules last month, which eliminated an option that allowed the city’s 18,000-member workforce to undergo weekly testing instead of being vaccinated. Wu also announced vaccine requirements for indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment establishments in the city.
The pushback was swift, and at times vocal. Protesters demonstrated against the mandate at several events; Cottone was among those brandishing signs and chanting during Wu’s announcement of the new rules on Dec. 20. Demonstrators also gathered at Wu’s swearing-in of the new City Council last week, and a recent mayoral appearance at a roll call at a Boston police station.
Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, became the first woman and first person of color elected Boston mayor last fall, and some of the resistance to the vaccine mandate has been racist and misogynistic. For instance, at the police roll call protest, one demonstrator held up a sign with a doctored image of Wu, referred to her as a misogynistic slur, and proclaimed “Welcome to the Peoples Republic of Boston.”
In late December, Boston Firefighters Local 718, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society filed a court petition for a temporary restraining order against the mandate, arguing it would violate existing labor agreements and “overburden exhausted work forces,” according to a statement from the firefighters’ union.
While police officials won’t detail the nature of the current internal investigation into Cottone, the department prohibits employees from publicly criticizing or ridiculing “the Department, its policies, or other employees by speech, writing, or expression in any other manner when such speech, writing or other expression is defamatory, unlawful, interferes with the maintenance of discipline, or is made with reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.”
Milton J. Valencia and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.