Friday, January 22, 2021 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
The Maywood Police Department is in the throes of yet another COVID-19 outbreak, according to multiple employees and Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet Jr.
During an interview on Jan. 22, Norfleet confirmed that he is aware of “between five and eight” employees in the police department who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last week.
According to several employees who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, there may be up to 10 people in the department, including multiple detectives and administrative personnel, who are currently out with the virus. Other employees are waiting for their test results to return and are out on unpaid sick leave.
Norfleet said he did not have a specific number of employees in the department who are currently out with COVID-19, but expressed concern about the police department being a super spreader site.
According to public health experts, a super spreader is a term that “refers to a propensity to infect a larger than average number of people [and] can potentially be used to describe events, policies or settings.”
“We could literally be on the verge of having the police department shut down and figuring out what the alternative will be,” Norfleet said. “It does appear there’s been an uptick in cases in the last two weeks.”
Norfleet explained that while employees must use their own sick time while they’re out waiting for test results, the village does have a 45-day extended sick leave policy.
“Maywood is ahead of the curve, because we do have an extended sick leave policy that is very liberal,” he said.
Multiple employees said on Friday that they were never notified by their superiors about their infected colleagues and complained about the working conditions inside of the department, including the lack of a mask mandate and insufficient distancing between employees.
Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley could not be immediately contacted on Friday morning for comment, but in prior interviews has acknowledged that he doesn’t require employees to wear masks. In emails obtained by Village Free Press, Talley explained his reasoning for not enforcing a mask mandate.
“Neither I nor anyone else will violate [employees’] Constitutional Rights while they are engaged in employment with the Village of Maywood,” Talley wrote last month.
The complaints among employees in the police department about the lack of effective COVID-19 protocols and mitigation strategies are long-standing.
There have been at least two complaints filed with the Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration. The complaints filed in May and August of last year, were both ruled “un-sustained” Talley said during an interview in August.
OSHA allows agencies where complaints are lodged to perform self audits. In the case of both complaints filed last year, Talley said he performed the self-audit himself.
At the time, Norfleet acknowledged that there was no standardized policy or procedures in the village for dealing with employees who fear they’ve been exposed to the virus. He said that he would work with staffers on implementing one.
When asked if the village has since come up with a standardized policy for protecting employees, Norfleet said that “in city hall, standards and protocols have been set up, but not with police and fire,” adding that the heads of those departments are given more latitude with respect to establishing their own COVID-19-related policies and practices.
Meanwhile, multiple employees in the department have expressed fears about going back to their place of employment, with some accusing the chief of malfeasance and neglect in his handling of COVID-19.
In the most damaging complaint, employees claimed that one of their colleagues in the police department who had tested positive this week returned to work anyway, exposing their colleagues to the virus.
“Nobody told me anything,” said an anonymous employee. “I got no communication about anything from anyone.”
Another employee said that their colleague told superiors that they were infected at 4 p.m., “but [the person] was still at the station working up until 7 p.m. — handling papers, touching stuff … this place is a breeding ground.”
Read our previous reporting on this issue below: