NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's former top vaccine official Dr. Michelle Fiscus said she was sent a muzzle one week before she was fired from her position. However, according to an investigation by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the package was sent to her from an Amazon account in her name and using her credit card.
The case investigation finding was first reported by Axios. The state said the case was closed on Monday.
After Fiscus was sent the muzzle in early July, Homeland Security was contacted to investigate who sent the package. The package did not have a return address or any identifying data that indicated who sent the package.
The report says Fiscus initially believed the dog muzzle was sent by a colleague as a prank or a joke, but after speaking with the colleague who denied sending the package, Fiscus suspected it was sent as a veiled threat due to her job. She told investigators due to her role in the state's COVID-19 vaccination program and her authoring a memo on Tennessee’s “Mature Minor” doctrine, she had been singled out for criticism by some people in the public and several state legislators.
According to state documents, Amazon was subpoenaed to release information on who sent the package. The subpoena found two accounts in Fiscus' name, one she shared with investigators and another account used to purchase the muzzle.
“Based on the information provided to us by Amazon via subpoena, and on information derived from interviews, there is no evidence to indicate that the dog muzzle was intended to threaten Dr. Fiscus. The results of this investigation indicate that purchases from both Amazon accounts were charged to the same American Express credit card in the name of Dr. Michelle D. Fiscus," the report says. "At the time, there appears to be no threat toward Dr. Fiscus associated with receipt of the dog muzzle."
According to the report, the second account was created in March of 2021.
Fiscus rejected the findings, saying she asked Homeland Security to investigate the package and was made aware of the report on Monday afternoon. She sent WTVF the following statement in response to the report:
I was just made aware of the report from Homeland Security today when it was shared with me by Axios Nashville. I had requested that Homeland Security obtain a subpoena as Amazon refused to release details of the account that ordered the muzzle that was delivered to my office on July 3, 2021. We have now learned that a second Amazon account had been established under my name using what appears to be a temporary phone, possibly in Washington state. I have asked Homeland Security for the unredacted report so that I can investigate further and am awaiting their response.
During an interview with WTVF on Monday, Fiscus admitted the charge for the muzzle did show up on her American Express statement but repeatedly denied buying the item.
"I can’t tell you how that happened except that I have used that credit card to purchase travel and to register for conferences and other things that have been reimbursed by the state of Tennessee," said Fiscus.
She added she felt the state's report was filled with inconsistencies. She said a second Amazon account in her name was set up using a burner phone with T-Mobile service, and she doesn't use that provider. In addition, the Amazon account listed her office as the billing address, which she said isn't the address associated with her credit card.
She said she doesn't know who was responsible for buying the muzzle, but wouldn't rule out someone who works for state government.
"I think there’s enough information at the state if they wanted to fabricate this. They have access to my credit card. They know my office address. It could be done," said Fiscus.
Fiscus was fired from the Tennessee Department of Health in July after facing scrutiny from Republican state lawmakers over her department's outreach efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19. Fiscus said she was fired to appease lawmakers.
Fiscus said she plans to request an unredacted copy of the investigation in hopes of getting more answers and clearing her name.
This story was originally published by Caroline Sutton at WTVF.