Joel Aylworth was a third-generation cop working for the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) in the spring of 2021 when he was given a choice: turn in his badge, or submit to the experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
While not an easy decision, it was one that was clear in Aylworth’s mind.
As a Christian, accepting the vaccine would have been of violation of his faith. And as a healthy man in his 30s, it was a violation of his common sense.
Speaking with Fox News Digital (FND) in a telephone interview, Aylworth said, “As a Christian, I don’t believe in injecting biological substances into my blood.”
“I focused on the data, which said this virus wasn’t really killing people,” he added. “People in my age group have a 99.9% survival rate without any vaccine.”
A married father of two young boys, Aylworth was training would-be cops at the San Francisco Police Academy when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the Bay Area.
“Right away, they shut down the Academy, and then because there were no recruits or anyone to train, the department realized they had all this extra personnel doing nothing,” he recalled.
He and some of his fellow officers were sent to the city’s notorious Tenderloin District, ground zero for San Francisco’s homeless crisis.
The officers, he said, were tasked with keeping the homeless from gathering in groups “because COVID supposedly spread very easily.”
At that point, officers were only required to wear face masks and get tested if they were infected with the virus or were in close contact with someone who was.
But, when the COVID vaccine became widely available, SFPD gave the 120 police holdouts until Oct. 13, 2021, to show proof that they had received at least one shot and until Nov. 12 to be fully vaccinated, ABC7 reported at the time.
Initially, the SFPD said it would give officers with a valid religious or medical exemption on file a pass, according to FND.
Aylworth filed his religious exemption on August 19, 2021.
“Also,” the former officer noted, “we knew as early as March 2021 that this vaccine did not protect against transmission.”
The SFPD’s human resources department first approved Aylworth’s exemption before, on Sept. 16, informing him via email that his exemption was no longer valid.
“The department said it had some ‘secondary questions’ for me and the other 150 already approved exemptions — along with another 150 who had applied for exemptions and were waiting to be approved,” he explained.
Aylworth answered their additional questions and was told in a letter that, based on his latest round of responses, his religious exemption had been revoked.
“All 150 of us who were previously approved did not get approved this time around,” he told FND. “Everyone in the department got denied.”
When presented with the October ultimatum, officers began turning in their badges.
“Our group dwindled from 300 to about 40 who actually were willing to get terminated,” Aylworth said. “Compare that to somewhere like Los Angeles, which has a department of 10,000 cops and received 2,000 requested religious exemptions.”
“The city threatened to fire them, too, but did nothing because they knew they couldn’t afford to lose 20% of their force, so they required weekly testing instead,” he pointed out. “SFPD did not offer testing or masking options like many neighboring cities and counties.”
As a result of his refusal to accept the vaccine, Aylworth was placed on a 30-day paid administrative leave.
“The health and well-being of City employees and the public we serve are top priorities during our emergency response to COVID-19,” he was told in yet another letter. “Your failure to comply with the vaccination requirement endangers the health and safety of the City’s workforce and the public we serve. The City repeatedly notified you of this requirement. As a result of your non-vaccination status, you are unable to perform essential job functions.”
At the end of the month, Aylworth was placed on administrative leave without pay — a move the department justified by claiming he was a “direct threat to the public.”
“The reason they justified not paying me during this time is they were able to drum up an old City Charter code that said if an employee is a direct threat to the public, which apparently I was deemed, they would not pay me while being placed on admin leave,” he explained.
“San Francisco Charter §§ A8.341 and A8.344 state that the Department’s sworn members can be placed on unpaid interim suspension for ‘acts which present an immediate danger to the public health and safety …'” the SFPD’s letter read. “I have concluded that your conduct in this matter falls into this category. I therefore intend to place you on interim suspension upon revocation of your paid leave. You will receive a separate notice of the effective date of the interim suspension. After that date, you shall no longer be on ‘paid’ administrative leave but shall be carried in an ‘unpaid’ capacity while awaiting a final decision regarding your separation hearing before the Police Commission.”
In a statement to FND, the department confirmed that “Officer Aylworth separated from SFPD on March 10, 2022.”
On March 15, they took his gun, his badge, and his ID card, Aylworth said. On March 28 of last year, he was officially fired.
“The ironic part is, after the onset of COVID, I worked until October 2021 — around one and a half years — without any vaccine, and I was deemed essential,” Aylworth said. “Then in October, I was suddenly deemed a ‘direct threat to the public’ — even though back in March 2021, we knew the vaccine offered no protection of transmission, but supposedly just lessened symptoms.”
The designation of Aylworth as a “direct threat to public safety” was not the result of anything scientific, he argues.
“I’ve never been evaluated by a doctor to see if I’m carrying some infectious disease. I’ve never been tested for natural immunity or even asked,” he said. “The only evidence they provided at a so-called hearing was the emails they sent advising me to get the vaccine.”
“They checked my vaccine status in a portal they created for the city, and it said I was still unvaccinated,” Aylworth continued. “So, according to their standards, I was a threat and was fired.”
Today, the former officer is joined by roughly 140 other employees who are suing the city, mainly for their failure to properly handle religious exemptions.
“We are taking legal action for several factors, but the main one to highlight is the violation of our Title VII violations, which clearly state how religious exemptions should be handled,” he said.
Aylworth and his family have since relocated to Nampa, Idaho.
Despite the debt and difficulties he has endured, Aylworth believes he did the right thing in refusing the vaccine.
“It requires courage to rise above and defend your rights, control your emotions and maintain a happy state of mind,” he said. “Most people follow the path of least resistance. They don’t want anything to interfere with their ease and comfort. But I believe it’s the times when you suffer that you actually grow.”
“Because I know who I am and what I stand for, it makes it much easier for me to show up as a great father and role model,” Aylworth acknowledged. “This experience has taught them to not follow the crowd, and to always think for themselves.”
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