Aaron Westrick received an Frank Wills and Martha Mitchell Pillar Award at the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights in August 2018.
Westrick spoke at Oakland University’s Macomb location on Thursday, Nov. 29.
Dr. Westrick is the former director of research and marketing at Second Chance Body Armor (SCBA), the largest manufacturer of bulletproof vests in the United States. He eventually left the company after discovering that their vests were unsafe.
SCBA was made aware of the ineffectiveness of their vests and even performed tests that proved these vests were unsafe. These vests were made of a fabric called Zylon, manufactured by a Japanese company called Toboyo.
Westrick wrote a memo to the president of the company urging a recall. His request was ignored.
In 2003, Officer Tony Zeppetella died on duty after his bullet proof vest, which had been produced by SCBA, failed.
Following Zeppetella’s death and the injury of another officer, Westrick entered a long-winded battle with SCBA.
Once realizing that a cover up was being executed between Second Chance and the Toboyo, Westrick leaked his memo to the press and testified in Zeppetella’s wife’s lawsuit against SCBA. Westrick lost his job following his whistleblowing.
“It’s important to understand that ethics will be tested in many people’s careers at some point,” said Jessica Knapik, unit marketing and enrollment coordinator at OU. “The decision people make to either address or dismiss the situation could have profound implications on people’s health, well-being and livelihoods.”
“Whistleblower” is a CBS television show that follows cases of ordinary people who expose dangerous behaviors of large corporations.
OU held a screening of Dr. Westrick’s episode in the Anton/Frankel Center in Mount Clemens. The episode was 45 minutes long and detailed the intense battle between SCBA and Dr. Westrick.
OU students and faculty were given an opportunity to ask Dr. Westrick questions about his lawsuit and the courage it took to come forward.
“I started working at Second Chance because I wanted to protect the protectors of our country,” Westrick said.
After exposing the company, Westrick feared backlash and took additional measures to protect his family.
“I remember my parents being afraid to leave us at home for just an hour,” Westrick’s son said during the episode.
During his time at SCBA, Westrick wore a wire to help gather information against the company and prove that Richard Davis, the former president of the company, knew that these vests were defective.
“The company knew that I wanted to come forward, but they kept me employed because it was the safest option,” Westrick said. “Once I blew the whistle and was fired, I told Davis, ‘Now is your chance to tell the whole truth.’”
Westrick now teaches at Lake Superior State University in Michigan. He also works as a deputy sheriff every summer.
“I would do the whole thing over again,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that what I did was worth it.”