The Federal Bureau of Investigation arranged for a meeting with officers from Connecticut’s State Capitol Police (SCP) at the FBI’s Meriden office over SCP’s concerns about an increase in email and online threats and harassment of state lawmakers, according to emails received through a Freedom of Information request.
Heidi Minns of the FBI emailed Capitol Police Sargent Timothy Boyle on November 3, 2022, following a bi-weekly call held by the Connecticut Intelligence Center (CTIC), which facilitates “the receipt, analysis, and dissemination of criminal, terrorism, and cybersecurity related information and intelligence in collaboration with partner agencies to help identify, respond, prevent and mitigate unlawful activity,” according to the center’s mission statement.
The FBI is part of that intelligence center, along with the Department of Homeland Security, National Guard, Connecticut State Police and others. The center was created in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Minns noted that Boyle had mentioned and increase in online harassment of state legislators.
“During the CTIC bi-weekly call you mentioned the Capitol Police were seeing an increase in email and/or online harassment of state legislators,” Minns wrote. “Can you provide some specifics as to what type of harassment, or if there are specific threats to legislators?”
Following an apparent phone call, Minns arranged a meeting between herself, her colleagues and several Connecticut State Capitol officers “to discuss threats/harassment of Connecticut legislators and potential areas of collaboration,” according to the emails.
Boyle responded that the time and date worked and asked if he could bring two colleagues.
Capitol Police did not respond to a request to confirm the meeting or offer comment on what was discussed, but the arrangement came at the end of an election season that saw Capitol Police arrest one man for threatening Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R-Tolland, over a misplaced lawn sign.
News of the meeting with FBI officials comes as the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee passed a bill to establish a working group to study and make recommendations concerning online harassment, abuse and threatening of “elected officials, public officials and residents of this state.”
The working group will assess “what state or municipal action is needed to address negative online behaviors that balances a citizen’s right to freedom of speech versus an individual’s right to be free from harassment, including, but not limited to, potential changes in state law concerning additional penalties for or enforcement of online harassment,” the bill states.
Although the legislation was passed out of committee by Democrats along a party-line vote, public hearing testimony was almost unanimous in opposition, with most emailed and written statements saying the bill and working group is attempting to violate free speech and that social media sites already have safety guidelines in place, although no one testified in person.
The lone voice of support came from the External Affairs Division of Connecticut’s Judicial Branch, which hoped to see the scope of the working group expanded to include judges and family support magistrates.
If passed by the General Assembly, the established working group would hold one public hearing to solicit feedback from the public and submit a report to the joint standing committee of the General Assembly.
The move is part of a larger national concern about threats and harassment against public officials in the wake of COVID-19 mandates, hyper-partisan politics, accusations of election rigging, and contentious school board meetings.
A study conducted by a coalition of groups and Princeton University to track threats and harassment against local public officials found that although data is incomplete and most perpetrators were separated from their targets by time and place, it shows “a regular pattern of death threats, harassment, intimidation at official’s homes, and more.”
However, they also noted that such threats were a “drop in the bucket” of overall political engagement.”
According to Connecticut statutes, first degree harassment includes the “intent to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize another person, he threatens to kill or physically injure that person or any other person,” by someone convicted of a prior felony, which is a Class D felony.
Harassment in the second degree is a Class C misdemeanor and the circumstances are more extensive. Second-degree harassment includes communication intended to “harass, terrorize or alarm another person, and for no legitimate purpose,” and includes phone calls, videos or photos through any form of communication, including “digital, electronic, online or other meeting space in a manner likely to cause terror, intimidation or alarm.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a First Amendment case out of Colorado to determine what constitutes a true threat after a man was convicted for repeatedly sending Facebook messages to a musician.
Over the course of two years, Billy Raymond sent 17 Facebook messages to the singer from different social media accounts, including, “You’re not being good for public relations. Die. Don’t need you,” and several others that implied he was following her. Raymond was eventually arrested for stalking.
The case is meant to answer the question as to whether the government “must show that the speaker subjectively knew or intended the threatening nature of the statement, or whether it is enough to show that an objective ‘reasonable person’ would regard the statement as a threat of violence,” unprotected by the First Amendment.
The charges against Gagnon over his threat to Nuccio, including second-degree threatening and second-degree harassment, were dropped in early 2023, according to the Journal Inquirer.