Oregon Trooper Posts Video From Patrol Car Defying State Vaccine Mandate; put on leave

An Oregon soldier was placed on paid leave on Wednesday for posting a video he said would defy Governor Kate Brown’s vaccine mandate and call on those who obeyed not only the governor’s leadership Will inquire as well.

Zachary Coving, 29, has worked for the Oregon State Police for eight years and has been assigned to the agency’s Bend office.

He posted the video on an Instagram account with the handle “Blue Line Patriot” six days ago.

He recorded a video of over two minutes 35 seconds in his patrol car while in uniform. He introduced himself as a Christian, husband, father and a police officer.

“I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to defend the liberties of those who pay my salary,” he says, looking at the camera, while the dispatch radio crackles in the background. “I don’t work for my governor but for him.”

He said he would not comply with Brown’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which applies to executive branch employees, including all employees working for all Oregon state agencies.

“I have personal and religious reasons why I won’t get vaccinated, as well as the freedom to choose not to,” he says. “I may be fired over this video, but I’m still exercising my First Amendment rights to speak freely.”

He said he has fallen in line “with these useless, ineffective mask mandates” for more than a year and that I won’t anymore.

In his video Coving refers to Brown as “Miss Governor” and says that her position “does not give us free rein to make medical decisions.” He also encourages people to decide “if you’re going to fall as sheep or if you’re going to stand up for the rights we still have for a short time.” “

His attorney, Dan Thennell, confirmed that Coving had been placed on leave.

State Police spokeswoman Capt. Stephanie Bigman declined to comment on Coving’s remarks, calling them an ongoing personnel matter.

“We only got that information yesterday,” she said. “This is a completely new investigation.”

He said officials do not know how many of the agency’s 1,450 employees have been vaccinated. She said October 18, the deadline to comply, is unlikely to be clear.

Brown’s spokeswoman Liz Merah said the office does not generally comment on personnel matters, but she called vaccination requirements “an important tool” to protect the state’s workers, workplaces and the public.

In an email on Thursday, Merah said Brown aims to “keep our schools, businesses and communities open. Our hospitals are full, and our doctors, nurses and health care workers are being pushed beyond their limits.” “

She noted the skyrocketing hospitalization rates.

“The majority of Oregonians hospitalized for COVID-19 are asymptomatic,” Merah said. “People are dying right now when we have safe, effective and free vaccines readily available. The governor is responding to a public health crisis. “

The incident is the second time state troops have violated Brown’s epidemiological orders. In July 2020, a group of soldiers appeared in uniform at a Corvallis coffee shop, defying the governor’s statewide mask order.

The three soldiers later met with the governor and, according to Brown, expressed regret for their actions and agreed that masks save lives.

In a recent message to its members, the leader of the union representing state soldiers said Brown’s vaccination mandate is the subject of “growing anger” among rank and file.

Trooper Josh Wetzel, president of the Oregon State Police Officers Association, told members that the union has sought to negotiate a change in working conditions because of the governor’s mandate.

He said that Brown’s order cannot be implemented until the matter is discussed.

Willamette University College of Law professor and labor law expert Keith Cunningham-Permeter said public employers typically can’t change working conditions — things like wages, hours and discipline — without negotiating with the employee union.

“The fact that someone can be fired if they don’t comply with the vaccine mandate is arguably a condition of employment,” he said. “Anything that can be fired at you is arguably a condition of employment.”

However, he said, given the nature of the pandemic, these are extraordinary times.

“The question before an arbitrator would be whether the emergency powers of the governor outweigh the process of ordinary bargaining,” he said.

– Noel Crombie; ncrombie@oregonian.com; 503-276-7184; @noellecrombie

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