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Stonington police commissioner urged to resign after controversial Facebook posts

Stonington — A group of town and state officials are criticizing Board of Police Commissioners member Robert O'Shaughnessy, a retired state trooper, and calling for him to resign after he made a series of controversial reposts involving race, immigration and other issues on his Facebook page last week.

His postings prompted First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough to write on the town's Facebook page Sunday morning that O'Shaughnessy's commentary "is contrary to the values of our community" and the Board of Selectmen would discuss steps to address the situation.

The Democratic Town Committee, state Rep. Kate Rotella of Mystic and Democratic state senate candidate Bob Statchen of Stonington all called on O'Shaughnessy to resign. O'Shaughnessy is an unaffiliated voter.

On Saturday, O'Shaughnessy posted a response to the criticism on his Facebook page, which stated, "Recently I reposted a commentary regarding the extreme tenor of today's environment. I regret that these words fanned the very flames I had hope to diminish. In the future I will take more care in my posts and reposts."

On Sunday afternoon outside his home, he said he would not resign.

Among O'Shaughnessy's Facebook postings were these:

"With all the properties being sold around Mystic I hope we will not have to put up one of these signs." He then reposted this item: 

"You came here from there because you did not like it there, and now you want to change here to be like there. We are not racist, phobic or anti whatever-you-are, we simply like here the way it is and most of us actually came here because it is not like there, wherever there was. You are welcome here, but please stop trying to make here like there. If you want here to be like there you should not have left there to come here, and you are invited to leave here and go back there at your earliest convenience."

O'Shaughnessy, the former commander of the Troop E state police barracks in Montville, also reposted a long list of grievances under the heading "We have become a nation that has lost its collective mind!"

Among them were the following:

"If a dude pretends to be a woman, you are required to pretend with him.

"People who have never owned slaves should pay slavery reparations to people who have never been slaves.

"Irish doctors and German engineers who want to immigrate must go through a rigorous vetting process but any illiterate gang bangers who jump the southern border fence are welcome.

"People who say there is no such thing as gender are demanding a female president."

In July he reposted "I never cared if you were 'gay' or whatever acronym you chose to call yourself until you started shoving it down my throat. I never cared what color you were, if you were a good human, until you started blaming me for your problems. I've never cared if your beliefs are different than mine. Until you said my beliefs are wrong.... Now I care. I've given all the tolerance I have to give. This is no longer my problem. It's your problem. You can still fix it. It's not too late. But it will be. Soon. I'm a very patient person at times. But I'm about out of patience. There are literally Millions of people just like me. We have had enough."

His postings come as the town awaits the results of an independent investigation into how the police department handled the alleged June beating of a Black woman by a white couple at the Quality Inn in Mystic. Some residents have criticized Stonington police because the couple fled after being released from the hospital. They were apprehended 16 days later in New York. The Board of Police Commisssoners will review the report, which is expected to be complete within the next few weeks, and then make any policy changes that might be required.

O'Shaughnessy has also reposted articles criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement and supporting police. Black Lives Matter supporters have staged numerous protests in front of the Stonington police station since the Quality Inn incident, including another on Sunday.

O'Shaughnessy is criticized, urged to resign

In her posting, Chesebrough, who could not be reached to comment Sunday, added, "We are a community diverse in our views, and we should all do more to understand those differing opinions. However, there is a line between a healthy balance of the political spectrum and divisive language that oversimplifies complex issues.

"The Board of Selectman will discuss steps we need to take to address this situation and continue to improve as a community to ensure all people know they will be treated with respect in Stonington. As we are all learning how to do better everyday, let us offer each other support as we learn and evolve."

Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Henri Gourd posted on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page Saturday that he was "surprised and extremely disappointed" by O'Shaughnessy's postings.

"The Board of Police Commissioners works diligently to promote an atmosphere of integrity with an open mind and impartial response to members of the public with the sole focus of doing what is in the Town's best interest. The Stonington Police Department and the Stonington Board of Police Commissioners do not share the views posted by Commissioner O'Shaughnessy," he wrote.

Rotella posted on her Facebook page Saturday that O'Shaughnessy "has failed to live up to the high standard board and commissions members should be held, and he should resign. There is no place for bigotry or racism in government, and the people of Stonington deserve much better than this. They deserve to know they will be treated fairly and with respect—without prejudice."

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Tim O'Brien wrote in a statement that the committee "has seen the divisive and reprehensible comments" that O'Shaughnessy posted and calls on him to immediately resign."

"While Mr. O'Shaughnessy has the same First Amendment rights to free speech as every American does, as a Stonington Police Commissioner he has a duty to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the Stonington Police Department and must be committed to being nonpolitical and objectively evaluating the Stonington Police. The views that he posted are contrary to the type of person who should be on the Police Commission," wrote O'Brien.

"The Stonington PD is consistently working hard to protect and serve all of us. The statement by member O'Shaughnessy marginalized and minimalized those who most need our support and help. This is not acceptable, and it undermines the good faith efforts of our sworn officers!," O'Brien added.

He wrote that O'Shaughnessy's "extreme comments will create a climate in which people are reluctant to approach the police commission as a whole, as well as to corrode the public confidence in our police department. That totally and completely invalidates the reason the commission exists. We need to support a more diverse and representative commission which acts as an impartial body, and represents that with their actions and words. Divisive and derogatory comments do not accomplish that goal."

Statchen wrote that "Bigotry and hatred have no place on any Stonington commission—and it's really disturbing to see these views held by a member of the Police Commission. "Robert O'Shaughnessy should resign so that we can restore confidence that all of our citizens will be treated fairly and equally by the town government. Our communities should be places where all people, regardless of race or background, feel welcome. We must be better than this."

j.wojtas@theday.com

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