Three Boston police officers have been fired from the department, city officials revealed this week — two of whom made inappropriate social media posts about the Jan. 6 insurrection, and a third who spearheaded the pushback against Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
News of the firings came as the Wu administration formally agreed with two first responders unions to drop the vaccine mandate that sparked outrage among some public safety workers and inspired protests that dogged her across the city.
Wu, in response to the firings, framed them as necessary to uphold the standards of the department.
“Police officers perform some of the most important work in Boston and in our society,” Wu said during an appearance on GBH News’ “Boston Public Radio” Tuesday. “They swear an oath to uphold the laws of our country, our state, and our city, as well as the rules of the Boston Police Department. . . . And that means at a very baseline, our officers have to follow the rules.”
The three former officers are Shana Cottone, who was a sergeant, and patrolmen Joseph Abasciano and Michael Geary.
Cottone, a 15-year veteran of the department and an outspoken critic of the mayor’s policies, has led anti-vaccine-mandate protests at City Hall and outside Wu’s Roslindale home. On Tuesday, a union attorney said Cottone is appealing her firing.
Abasciano, a retired Marine and Iraq veteran, is known for his affiliation with Back the Blue events across the state. He had been under investigation by the department for his presence at the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington in 2021 and accusing former vice president Mike Pence of treason on Twitter.
Geary was fired last fall after he made inappropriate social media posts, but his termination was not publicly disclosed until Tuesday. Specifically, in one Facebook comment on an FBI post soliciting information about individuals involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection, Geary replied “rats get bats,” a phrase that threatens violence against people who talk to authorities about illegal activities.
“Who can trust a police officer who has been given extraordinary authority to seize property or use force or carry a weapon and a badge if their mindset is ‘rats get bats’?” Wu said on Tuesday.
He also made online comments about Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black EMT from Louisville, Ky., who was fatally shot in 2020 by police officers during a “no knock” warrant. In one post referencing Taylor, Geary, who had been with BPD since December 2014, wrote “Good riddance.” In another he said that Taylor “got what she deserved.”
Boston First Responders United, an anti-vaccine group that Cottone leads, issued a statement Monday night announcing the firings and claiming Cottone’s and Abasciano’s terminations came at Wu’s direction.
“The cases against both officers are both politically motivated and retaliation for speaking out in support of personal choice and freedom of speech,” the statement said.
The group went on to claim that “exculpatory evidence provided during both officers’ respective disciplinary hearings was summarily ignored by those in charge of ensuring fair trials,” and that BPD “Internal Affairs Command staff and Mayor Wu’s cabinet level staff collud[ed] to violate the rights of these employees.”
Wu said she was not involved in the termination decisions but read them and supports the commissioner. She added that each case involved “misconduct that was detailed, investigated, thorough due diligence conducted, and decided through the Internal Affairs Department that there were multiple violations of departmental rules that should lead to termination.”
The Police Department opened an internal investigation into Abasciano’s conduct in January 2021 after the Globe shared Twitter posts by a user, @mailboxjoe, whom another poster had publicly identified as Abasciano.
On the day of the riot, a person using the account posted photos in D.C. of the crowds, calling it a “day for choosing.” In another post, the person called Pence, who permitted the certification of votes for Joe Biden as president to proceed, “not a [godly] man” and accused him of treason.
“I hope you never sleep well again. [Y]our Treasonous Act lead [sic] to the murder of an innocent girl and the death of America,” @mailboxjoe wrote, referencing Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as rioters tried to breach the House chamber.
Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox said Monday night that Abasciano had violated two rules in the department’s code of ethics.
“While in the Department’s employ, Abasciano authored a series of social media posts that called into question his ability to provide police services in an unbiased and objective manner,” Cox said in a statement. “Abasciano’s conduct impairs the operation of this Department and its employees by diminishing the Department’s reputation and trust within the community.”
Cottone, who was placed on leave last year just days before the city’s vaccine requirement went into effect, committed “multiple violations of several Department rules and procedures,” Cox said.
“Cottone’s conduct in these cases reflects a pattern and inability to adhere to the rules and procedures of this Department,” Cox said in the statement. “These violations along with Cottone’s disciplinary history render her unsuitable to continue her employment with the Boston Police Department and thus her employment has been terminated.”
On Tuesday, Cottone said that she was the target of a political witch hunt, that she was fired for “thought crimes,” and that she never hurt anyone. Her termination, she said, was a classic case of government overreach.
“They’re weaponizing the police department, they’re weaponizing City Hall,” Cottone said.
Cottone’s firing came as the city said it had reached separate agreements with first responders unions — Boston Firefighters IAFF Local 718 and the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation — and that it “will not enforce” Wu’s vaccine mandate, which went into effect in December 2021.
The two unions along with the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society sued the city in 2021, less than two weeks after Wu announced that city workers would have to demonstrate proof that they were vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk termination.
Still, the agreements will have minimal practical impact, since Boston never enforced the strict vaccine mandate, due to pending litigation. But they resolve the unions’ complaints before they proceeded to the state’s Department of Labor Relations, sparing both sides “the expense and uncertainty of further litigation,” according to the agreements.
City officials said they hope to reach a similar agreement with the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society. And the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association Tuesday night said the city had agreed not to enforce the mandate for its members.
City officials say Wu could still impose a strict vaccine mandate if and when the public health circumstances require it.
Patrick Bryant, an attorney representing the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, said the union is filing a grievance and demanding arbitration over Cottone’s firing. On Tuesday, he asked the city to waive the preliminary steps in the arbitrary process so a resolution could be reached sooner.
“There remains a deep concern that Sergeant Cottone is being treated to a different set of rules and procedures than other police officers and that appears to largely stem from City Hall’s displeasure with her,” he said.
The Globe’s attempts to reach Abasciano on Monday were unsuccessful and a message left with his attorney was not immediately returned Tuesday. The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association declined to comment.
Wu has said ensuring greater police accountability is among her priorities in ongoing contract negotiations with the police unions. Firing police officers, even those who engaged in serious misconduct, can be difficult, since unions can have those decisions overturned on appeal, usually via the arbitration process
When an officer has been terminated, Wu said Tuesday on GBH, “we need to do what we can to make that stick.”
“We need to have some predictability in this process, and by reducing the avenues for everything to be all up in the air again, this puts the authority where it belongs: in the commissioner’s office,” she said.
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