A 24-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department must accept a COVID-19 vaccine or lose his career in law enforcement after he was served with termination papers Tuesday for declining to comply with the city’s employee vaccine mandate.
HPD Cpl. Mark Kutsy, 48, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he was called back to police District 7, East Honolulu headquarters, at about 5 p.m. where his command placed him on unpaid leave after serving him with Restriction of Police Authority and termination papers.
Kutsy, who came to Honolulu as a United States Marine stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii and served 16 years with the Hawaii Air National Guard while working as an officer, surrendered his gun, badge and equipment as required under department policy.
“I tried to serve my country and nation as best as possible and I just feel bad being done wrong right now. It’s just sad that it’s come to this,” said Kutsy. “I’m 48 years old. I literally gave half of my life to the department and to serving my community. And in the blink of an eye the chief of police and the mayor can do what they’ve done thus far and begin termination proceedings.”
Kutsy, who was hoping to retire next year after 25 years with HPD, has 10 working days to reply to the termination notice and said he has some hard choices to make while he considers what to do next.
“Of course, I don’t want to get terminated. I’ve got too much to lose,” he said. In lieu of getting vaccinated, Kutsy said he is willing to submit to weekly testing but noted Honolulu is the only county not providing employees that option.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi told the Star-Advertiser in a statement that personnel matters are being vetted by the Department of Human Resources, and there are about 49 employees subject to unpaid leave and possible termination for failing to respond or comply with the city’s vaccination policy. City workers had until Aug. 23 to get vaccinated or apply for a religious or medical exemption.
“We have said from the beginning that we do not want to fire any of our employees, but our primary goal is to provide a safe workplace for all of our employees and their families,” Blangiardi said.
Kutsy declined the vaccine based on his health and personal judgment, he said, and has not gotten sick in six years or had the flu in two decades. Last year, Kutsy followed state rules during two trips to the mainland and took every precaution while working 100-plus hour weeks during the height of the pandemic’s initial wave on Oahu. He’s thankful he did not get sick enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, but finds it notable.
“I must be doing something right for me, to go through all those things and still being able to go to work every day,” said Kutsy, who joined HPD in 1997 two weeks after completing his USMC active duty commitment. “The risk of getting the vaccine is greater than not getting it at all, at this time, based on my personal health and judgment.”
Applying for a medical or religious exemption was suggested by some but Kutsy said no.
“Even though I am a Christian, I feel my own personal beliefs … I don’t feel I warrant a religious exemption,” he explained. “I could circumvent the system but I am trying to be true to myself.”
About 296 HPD officers and civilian employees have applied for a religious or medical exemption.
Kutsy is the first officer to reach out to the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers for help with Restriction of Police Authority and termination proceedings for declining the city’s vaccine mandate.
“We are aware of Cpl. Kutsy’s situation. SHOPO will assist him and he will go through the grievance process,” SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu told the Star-Advertiser.
HPD did not immediately reply to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
In 2017 Kutsy and officers Nicole Amano, Dillon Keaney, and Aaron Washington Jr. were awarded HPD Certificates of Merit for their work to disarm a domestic violence suspect who had injured the occupants of a Honolulu home, according to a police citation. At that time, the officers were dispatched after a woman told a 911 operator that her husband injured her and their children. When the officers arrived they found the husband armed with a kitchen knife. They talked him down and he dropped his weapon. Kutsy and his fellow officers then treated the wounded.