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Stonington police commissioner addresses controversial social media posts

Stonington — During a virtual meeting of the town's Police Commission on Thursday night, Commissioner Robert O'Shaughnessy addressed his social media posts that last month led local officials and residents to call for his resignation, stating the importance of “civil discourse.”

A group of state and local officials in August publicly criticized O'Shaughnessy, a retired state trooper, for a series of controversial reposts on his Facebook page involving race, immigration, gender identity and other issues.

On Thursday night, O'Shaughnessy opened the meeting of the board by making a public statement to residents and other local leaders about the posts.

He said he recently met with Jean Jordan, president of the New London chapter of the NAACP and a local reverend.

“It has been through these discussions along with others that I have come to better understand my error in judgment by sharing these posts, particularly as a leader in our community,” O'Shaughnessy said.

He said he supports social justice for all and looks forward to working with fellow police commissioners, the Board of Selectmen and others to continue conversations “to engage and educate us on any important topics facing our community including those of unconscious bias.”

He said he is willing to sit down with anyone who wants to discuss his posts and values.

“I hope we can look for ways to build up rather than tear down, I hope we can restore civil discourse and not continue to assume bad intent when we disagree,” he said in his statement. “Our country is founded on the ideals that each of us can express our thoughts and feelings freely and openly in order that we might work together to find common solutions to difficult issues, we need to restore an open and honest dialogue in order to serve our whole community.”

Following O'Shaughnessy’s statement, Henri Gourd, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said that “the way to effect change is not to vilify the people on social media or the press that you do not agree with.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, a few residents spoke, offering mixed reactions to the commissioner’s statement. Some said they appreciated the gesture, while others said it wasn’t enough.

Among concerned residents was Joe Trelli of Pawcatuck, who said that when he saw O'Shaughnessy’s reposts, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “I was shocked that someone in that position would make the decision to post something like that.”

Trelli said that on Thursday he planned to just listen in on the meeting, but felt compelled to speak up when he heard most people talking about parking concerns during public comment, rather than the controversial posts.

The 35-year-old told the board that he supports debate and political differences, but did not support the things O'Shaughnessy reposted. He said he felt they “were just hateful” and tarnished the sense of community in the town where he and his wife have chosen to raise their family.

Trelli said that after he spoke, the board asked him to reach out and he plans to have further discussions with board members.

In August, O'Shaughnessy’s postings prompted First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough to write on the town's Facebook page that O'Shaughnessy's actions were “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. Others came to his defense in the wake of the backlash, including Board of Selectmen members who urged residents to get to know O’Shaughnessy instead of judging him on his posts.

Among O'Shaughnessy's Facebook postings were these: "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.”

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 Commissioners 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.

During the meeting, one resident from Mystic asked for more accountability for police commissioners.

On Thursday, Gourd said that the board of police commissioners would like to follow up with the Board of Selectmen’s suggestion for sensitivity and bias training. He said he and fellow commissioners support the creation of a townwide board of conduct to review situations like this, adding that “what may be deemed acceptable behavior by one person may be offensive to another.”

In August, O'Shaughnessy posted a response to the criticism on his Facebook page, promising that “in the future I will take more care in my posts and reposts."

The chairman encouraged residents who still had concerns to take O’Shaughnessy up on his offer to sit down for a discussion.

Day Staff Writer Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

t.hartz@theday.com

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