Police in Martha’s Vineyard used red flag laws to seize the guns of an 84-year-old Korean War veteran over a comment the man made to a friend at a local diner.
Stephen Nichols was meeting with Edgartown resident Andy Marcus at Linda Jean’s diner in Oak Bluffs a couple of weeks ago when he mentioned that Tisbury School resource officer Scott Ogden often leaves his post as kids arrive to drink coffee at Xtra Mart, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
Nichols, who works as the school’s crossing guard, told his friend someone could “shoot up the school” in Ogden’s absence and criticized the officer for “leaving his post.” Those comments apparently unnerved a waitress at Linda Jean’s, who contacted the police to tattle on the elderly U.S. Army veteran.
The server’s complaint was apparently enough to convince Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio to remove Nichols from his crossing guard duties, revoke his license to carry a firearm, and seize all of his guns at his home. Nichols was not armed at the diner or during his duties at the school.
Saloio and another officer physically removed the old man and took him to his house to seize his guns.
“He came up and told me what I said was a felony but we wasn’t going to charge me,” Nichols said.
The guns were turned over to Nichols’ son-in-law and Saloio also forced him to turn over his firearms permit on the spot, though the 84-year-old said he was given no receipts or paperwork to document the seizure.
“He just told me to hand it over so I took it out of my wallet and handed it to him,” Nichols said, adding that he’s never had a violation since he was licensed to carry a firearm in 1958.
“I’ve got no records of any violations,” he said.
Marcus told the Times he’s talked with Nichols at the counter at Linda Jean’s for years and the “absurd” situation was created by a waitress who misunderstood his friend’s comments. Nichols didn’t like the fact that Ogden left the school unattended when students needed him most, Marcus said, and nobody who knows Nichols would believe he’s a threat to kids.
Marcus pointed out Nichols was a longtime special police officer, court officer and constable with an impeccable record.
“He loves kids,” Marcus said. “It’s almost like of all the people …”
Nichols said he doesn’t carry any firearms out of the house. The grandfather to 11 and great-grandfather to 11 more said he “would never, ever, ever harm a child.”
“When I was in the United States Army, and it wasn’t just me, it’s anybody who’s in the United States service, if you are on guard duty for eight hours, you didn’t leave that position,” Nichols said. “And I’m just so accustomed to that, that when I see someone who’s supposed to be protecting kids … leave the school unguarded – if you’re on guard duty, you stay there.”
Nichols told the Times is wife died two years ago so he took up the crossing guard work to maintain a connection to the community.
“I just need something to do to get out of the house and I love the kids,” he said.
Linda Jean’s owner Marc Hanover said he’s convinced “there was never a threat made” and described the ordeal as “absolutely outrageous.” A server “overreacted,” Hanover said.
Regardless, Nichols is now selling his guns and filing an appeal to get his job back.
“I would expect reasonable minds to prevail, and (Nichols) to be reinstated to his job,” Dan Larkosh, Nichols’ attorney, told the Times.
Police Chief Saloio refuses to discuss the debacle, as does town administrator Jay Grande.
“There’s nothing I can legally discuss about the matter. Period,” Saloio told the Times.