Police arrested a man recently honored as a local 2020 Paramedic of the Year after Polk County, Florida, law enforcement officials alleged he “set up the circumstance” that led to the theft of three Covid-19 vaccine doses meant for firefighters.
Paramedic Joshua Colon, 31, is accused of forging vaccine screening and consent forms for three missing doses, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference Tuesday. Colon told detectives he was covering up for a supervisor, Judd said.
According to an affidavit excerpt posted by the sheriff’s office, Colon received three vials containing 10 vaccine doses each on January 6 and was directed to administer them to firefighters. First responders who receive the vaccine need to complete and sign screening and consent forms, which are collected by the people administering the vaccine, the excerpt says.
At the end of the day, Colon was missing information for some of the doses.
Colon told officials he would get the missing information and reported three names he said were of firefighters who were recipients, the affidavit excerpt says. Two told investigators they never received the vaccine, and the third name was not a real person, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.
When deputies met Colon this week, he allegedly admitted he created and signed the three forms himself and admitted they were fictitious, according to the news release.
He told deputies a supervisor “joked with him” about getting “some vaccines for the supervisor’s mother,” according to the news release.
“According to Colon, he refused to provide those vaccines to the supervisor, at which time the supervisor said he would tell those higher up in the chain of command that Colon was selling vaccines outside of work,” the news release says.
“What occurred was, there were three syringes with three doses of the vaccine that Joshua Colon put in a plastic bag, put in a special refrigerator and sealed it. And then, at the direction of (the supervisor) he took a break,” Judd said.
When Colon came back, the seal was broken and the vaccines were gone, Judd said, adding that Colon then “made up the stories and the false documents” to account for the missing doses.
‘It’s a matter of public trust’
His attorney, David R. Carmichael, said in a statement to CNN that Colon “encountered a very difficult situation when a supervisor demanded Mr. Colon provide unauthorized doses of Covid Vaccine … for use by the supervisors family.”
Carmichael said Colon refused to do so and refused again when the supervisor recommended he cover up missing vaccine doses by saying they were wasted.
“The Supervisor then threatened to tell people that Mr. Colon offered to sell the supervisor the vaccine, so he should just give it to the Supervisor or risk being fired. Mr. Colon again refused. The Supervisor ordered Mr. Colon take a lunch break,” the attorney said. When his client returned, the vaccine doses were missing, he said.
Colon tried to contact his chief but found out he was out of town and, “fearing retribution,” covered up the missing doses, Carmichael said.
Judd said two doses were later recovered in the supervisor’s car. They were not viable, Polk County Fire Rescue Chief Robert Weech said.
“The bottom line is, Joshua tried to cover for the (supervisor),” Judd said. “Joshua set up the circumstance for the vaccines to have been stolen. Had Joshua simply gone to his boss right then, he’d have been the hero.”
Colon was charged with four counts of forgery, four counts of uttering a forged instrument, four counts of falsifying medical records, two counts of creating a fictional personal ID, as well as criminal use of personal ID and official misconduct, according to the sheriff’s office news release.
He was released on bond, the release said, and the investigation — including what role the supervisor may have played — is ongoing.
“It’s a matter of public trust, we take that seriously,” Weech said during the news conference. “We had a special duty, and that was to deliver the vaccine to the first responders that are out there helping the public.”
Colon resigned from the department, Weech said. The sheriff said they will also talk to the supervisor.
CNN has reached out to Colon for comment. His attorney said Colon “deeply regrets his weakness in failing to alert the Chain of Command to the theft of the vaccine, accepts responsibility for his error in covering up the theft, and in an effort to protect the reputation of his agency, has resigned his position.”
“I only have one question for them,” the sheriff said in the news conference. “What were you thinking?”