State, local political leaders condemn violent Facebook posts aimed at Osten

Sprague — Democratic First Selectwoman and state Sen. Cathy Osten received statewide support from fellow legislators, municipal officials from several towns and union representatives from throughout the state Tuesday in reaction to recent posts threatening violence on a state Republican Facebook page.

The posts, since removed from the page, stemmed from an incident in which Osten allegedly damaged a Sprague resident’s lawn with her vehicle wheels during her door-to-door campaigning in her re-election bid for first selectwoman.

A comment by someone named Joe Diaco said: “I would have pulled her out of that car and knocked her out.” Another comment by a Casey Richer said: “She does that to the wrong person she might get shot.” Poster Phil Fredericks replied: “Casey Richer I’ll shot her.”

The comments have been referred to both the state Capitol police and to the resident state trooper in Sprague for a possible criminal investigation, officials said Tuesday.

More than 30 people attended a news conference, held Tuesday morning across the street from Sprague Town Hall in Baltic, featuring  top Democratic legislative leaders and local legislators. State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said everyone cherishes First Amendment rights, but some comments “cross the line” into threats or incite violence, as these postings did, he said.

“It is important, I think, to recognize that this is damaging element in our public discourse,” Looney said. “It cheapens it. It’s dangerous, and it sets a terrible example to young people who might become interested in public life, not to mention the actual threat and menace that’s behind some of these comments.”

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, called the comments “completely over the top and reckless.” He called for both Democratic and Republican leaders to condemn the comments, some of which officials at Tuesday’s news conference said were not removed immediately from the Republican Party Facebook page.

Duff said both parties should work to stop threatening comments directed against anyone in any public position, no matter the party affiliation.

Osten said she was overwhelmed by the turnout Tuesday, joking that most of the attendees “don’t come to this part of the state” often.

“More than anything else, I think I was disappointed that anybody would say this today,” Osten said. “In today’s world, you cannot ever take it as just words any longer. Too many people have acted on words that other people have said. We can’t have that anymore. We can have a debate on ideas. We can have a disagreement on which roads should be fixed, but we cannot any longer say to people ... shame them on their body or shame them or threaten to shoot people. It’s just not allowed. It’s not good language and language really matters.”

State and local Republican leaders issued statements Tuesday in response to the comments, condemning the posts and saying the posters were not connected either with the state Republican Central Committee or Sprague Republicans.

“The Sprague Republican Town Committee strongly condemns the careless, ridiculous and over the top social media comments directed towards Senator Osten,” RTC Chairman Michael Meadows wrote in a news release. “It is unfortunate that a post about Cathy Osten driving on a constituent’s lawn yielded such a radical response. We denounce such rhetoric. It is unnecessary and detracts away from the many issues facing our town.”

Meadows said Osten’s opponent in the first selectman race, current Selectwoman Cheryl Allen Blanchard, and her running mate Joan Charron-Nagle, concurred with the town committee’s statement.

“It’s outrageous that a post about Cathy Osten driving on someone’s lawn would generate such an over the top and disappointing response,” state Republican Chairman JR Romano said in a statement. “These posts are from random people not connected to the Republican Party. It demonstrates a sad and tragic part of social media.”

In a brief phone interview Tuesday, Romano said the posts were deleted once party leaders were made aware of them. He said the party’s Facebook page has a moderator and he would check on whether the posters who made the objectionable comments would be banned.

“These people have no affiliation with us,” Romano said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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