Tigers owner to meet with religious groups; bomb comment prompts arrest

Norwich — Connecticut Tigers owner E. Miles Prentice issued a new statement Friday, saying he will meet with representatives of various faith groups soon and asserting that there has never been discrimination against any fans coming to Tigers games or games of his other minor league teams.

Later in the day, Norwich police said a comment on a related article on theday.com sparked a bomb search at Dodd Stadium and led to the arrest of a Waterford man. No explosive devices were found and the Tigers game went on as scheduled, police said.

Representatives of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Norwich area residents had approached the Norwich Baseball Stadium Authority on Wednesday, asking to meet with Prentice to ensure there is no religious bias connected with the team in light of his position as chairman of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank that promotes anti-Muslim conspiracies.

Prentice on Thursday issued a strongly worded statement saying he would not meet with CAIR, but on Friday said he would meet with representatives of various faith groups following a family vacation next week.

“I will be meeting with influential leaders of various faith communities to affirm my personal commitment to welcoming and serving all of our fans, irrespective of their religious beliefs, if any, as we have always done,” Prentice wrote in a statement issued through media relations firm Hamilton Strategies.

“For many baseball fans, the game is considered America’s pastime and a near-religious experience,” the statement begins. “There is, of course, no religious test for attending the games or any other form of discrimination practiced by any team with which I have been associated — never has been, never will be. The Norwich Tigers welcome everyone who wants to enjoy the sport as much as our outstanding players do.”

In addition to Prentice’s statement, Tigers Senior Vice President C.J. Knudsen accepted an offer from Norwich businessman and Sikh community representative Swaranjit Singh Khalsa to erect a sign on the Dodd Stadium gate that says “Welcome” in 24 languages.

Khalsa on Friday welcomed both the upcoming meeting with Prentice and the outreach by the Tigers to accept his offer to donate the sign. He plans to arrange an event to present the sign with representatives of many local ethnic and religious groups attending a Tigers game following the presentation.

“I welcome Mr. (Prentice’s) revised statement that he is willing to talk to various leaders of faith-based communities to show his commitment and good will,” Khalsa said Friday. “I will still recommend Tigers’ leadership to get cultural competency training and use this educational opportunity to re-enforce that there is no place of hate and bigotry in our society.”

Khalsa said he is certified as a cultural competency trainer and has held training classes for law enforcement and other organizations.

Tark Richard Aouadi, executive director of CAIR CT, said he, too, welcomed the chance to meet with Prentice and Tigers officials.

“Any situation whereby the people of Norwich can communicate with the leaders of the team and the general populous is welcome,” Aouadi said Friday.

He said now that Prentice’s affiliation with the right-wing Center for Security Policy is known, CAIR’s position is to question what the affiliation might mean for the community at large at Dodd Stadium.

Aouadi also was pleased that the Tigers will accept a multi-language welcome sign and hopes to participate in the upcoming presentation event, either personally or as a CAIR representative.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom also was pleased with Prentice's decision to meet with local religious leaders, calling it "a very smart thing to do." Nystrom offered to help arrange the meeting with assistance from the Norwich Area Clergy Association.

Nystrom stressed that there has never been a complaint about discrimination at Dodd Stadium, either with the Tigers or the two previous minor league baseball teams that have leased the stadium in the past 25 years.

The mayor alerted police Friday afternoon about a comment that said in part "let's bomb the place," referring to Dodd Stadium, posted on The Day's story on Prentice's initial statement that he would not meet with a Connecticut Muslim group.

Norwich police Sgt. Nicholas Rankin said that James Quinn, 44, of 27 Oil Mill Road was arrested Friday evening, with assistance from Waterford police, in connection with the comment. He was charged with first-degree threat involving hazardous substance and second-degree breach of peace.

"We take any of those seriously," Rankin said, noting bomb-sniffing canines with Mohegan Sun Tribal Police helped search the stadium Friday afternoon. The facility was evacuated and people temporarily were turned away at the parking lot during the search, he added.

Police Chief Patrick Daley said nothing was found and termed the threat “not credible.” He thanked Mohegan police for their prompt response to the request. “They were a great help,” he said. “It’s nice to have partners like that.”

Tigers staff checked fans’ bags — not usually done at the stadium — and the game was delayed by about 10 minutes.

“You know, there’s a bomb threat?” one fan said to another while heading toward the gate. “Crazy.”

Quinn was released Friday night on a $20,000 nonsurety bond and is scheduled to appear Aug. 29 in Norwich Superior Court.

Day Staff Writer Benjamin Kail contributed to this report.

c.bessette@theday.com

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