SOUTHINGTON — Capitol police are investigating whether a comment on a local senator’s social media post constituted a threat.
Last week, Republican Sen. Rob Sampson wrote a post about his efforts to change state criminal justice laws and his disappointment that the General Assembly wouldn’t be revisiting a sweeping police bill passed last year. Sampson has credited the police bill and other laws over the past decade with increasing crime, particularly car thefts and burglaries by youths.
“Democrats serving on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee in Hartford are already telegraphing that they have zero interest in reversing any of the dangerous public policy that has led to the massive crime wave affecting our community,” Sampson wrote.
Sampson represents Southington, Wolcott, Prospect, Waterbury and Cheshire.
The post included a news article that mentions Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, judiciary committee chairman, and his intention to leave the police bill unchanged during this legislative session.
According to Sampson and screenshots of the conversation, a commenter wrote “Or we can take justice in our own hands. Hopefully the sanitation system will pick up the carcass.”
The post has 130 comments including supporters and critics of Sampson. It’s unclear if the comment was directed at Sampson, Winfield, criminals or someone else. A Facebook request for comment left with the commenter was not returned Tuesday.
Scott Driscoll, Capitol Police spokesman, said police had been notified of the comment but didn’t provide any further details.
“The situation was reported and is being looked into,” he said.
Sampson working with Capitol Police
Sampson said he was notified about the comment Monday and issued a statement condemning violence. He called Capitol Police who advised him to leave the post up rather than delete it.
Two years ago, an anti-gun activist’s text concerning Sampson received attention from Capitol Police. The woman wrote that if she’d had a gun, she’d “blow away” Sampson and members of the National Rifle Association. The woman was not charged but was asked to leave the Capitol building.
Sampson said there’s also not likely to be a charge for the recent Facebook commenter either since the comment was vague.
Dems tie comment to D.C. violence
On Tuesday, state Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, released a statement saying that violent words led to violent actions.
"Senator Sampson said that the recently enacted police accountability bill and other criminal justice legislation 'undermined the rule of law' and led to a 'crime wave.' This is the kind of incendiary, alarmist, reckless fear mongering that leads to what we saw at the U.S. Capitol last week,” the two Democratic leaders wrote in a statement.
According to preliminary FBI crime data for 2020, violent crime decreased in the Northeast in the first six months of the year compared to 2019, but nonnegligent manslaughter and aggravated assault rose by nearly 15% and 5%, respectively, The Connecticut Mirror reported.
Homicides rose in cities across the country, not just in Connecticut, where Winfield’s police accountability was signed into law over the summer.
Dan Barrett, Connecticut ACLU legal director, said one of his organization’s members saw the comment. He said it should have been met “by an immediate response by elected officials.”
“It seemed to be the same sort of casual promise of violence that we’ve seen over the last few years, especially over the last week or so,” Barrett said.
Winfield told The Mirror that during the course of his work on controversial topics including ending the death penalty, protecting members of LGBTQ communities and several police accountability measures, he has been no stranger to threats of violence. His work has focused heavily on issues of race, equity and criminal justice, all difficult issues that inspire a lot of passion in residents.
“People expect you to be more deferential than I am. And to be Black on top of it, you don’t see that all the time,” Winfield told the Mirror. “I’ve had death threats, I’ve been run off the road, I’ve been physically confronted, I’ve had a stalker.”
Winfield said he had been offered a security detail. He is still mulling over whether to accept. He is trying to walk the line between being desensitized to threats of violence and understanding that “the world is changing.
I know sometimes we can poo-poo these things, but I’m trying not to do that,” he said. “I’m also trying not to overreact.”
Sampson said attempts to tie the comment to him and other recent violence were baseless and that he responded as soon as he was made aware of the comment.
“This is all about the fact that the Democrats and the ACLU are angry because I’m pointing out their failures on the subject of law and order,” he said.
Sampson, GOP respond
On Monday, he addressed the comment in a post on his Facebook page and wrote he was “happy” to repudiate the “hateful and threatening comment.”
“There are those who want to continue to divide our nation. I am not one of them. I want us to return to being one country under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” he wrote.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, responded to Looney and Duff’s release on Tuesday, saying their language towards Sampson was incendiary.
"The Connecticut Senate Republican caucus condemns violence in all its forms and will not tolerate threats or hateful social media comments. That is why our caucus brought those comments to the attention of the state Capitol Police,” Kelly wrote.
This story includes a report by The Connecticut Mirror originally published at www.ctmirror.org.