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Stonington police: smeared by association

The summer's pandemic and racial turmoil has been a tumultuous time for many of the professional men and women of the Stonington Police Department, who I would say have gotten a bad rap.

First, there was the June assault on Crystal Caldwell, a black employee at a Mystic hotel who reported she was subjected to racist insults while being viciously attacked by two white out-of-town guests.

Stonington police let down their guard, and the bad guys got away. It's not a good look for policing, but I haven't seen any evidence, despite an outcry suggesting racism, that the race of the victim played any part at all in the mishandled police response. The suspects have since been charged.

Then Stonington Police Commissioner Robert O'Shaughnessy last week posted a nasty diatribe on Facebook mocking gays, immigrants, transgendered people and, it seems, just about anyone who isn't a straight white male.

"Any illegitimate gang bangers who jump the southern fence are welcome," the former commander of the Troop E state police barracks in Montville posted on his Facebook page, admitting he had copied and pasted the rant from somewhere else.

O'Shaughnessy's most recent post might not surprise anyone who has been following his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and police accountability measures.

But it was horrible enough to trigger a robust round of condemnation, mostly from Democrats but also from the unaffiliated first selectwoman.

Sadly, much of the public at large cynically took it as a reflection of the perspective of the commission entrusted with overseeing policing in the town. The chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners had to take to Facebook to distance the group from the ugly post.

Indeed, some reader comments posted on a news story about O'Shaughnessy's post linked it directly to the police department's handling of the Caldwell case, suggesting that a department overseen by someone who thinks like that might not take an assault on a Black person in town seriously.

O'Shaughnessy not only embarrassed himself with his mean-spirited attack but he shortchanged all the hardworking police officers in town who were smeared by association.

If a public rant like that from a police commissioner is allowed to stand, it implies tacit approval of those kinds of attitudes in the police department. Stonington police officers deserve better than that kind of misplaced inference.

O'Shaughnessy, in response to the outcry, said he regretted the post but did not apologize for its sentiments and he said he would not resign from the commission.

Some of the public response to the incident on social media and in news comments was ugly, too.

A former Republican selectman referred to those criticizing the police commissioner as a mob.

Indeed, the issue broke largely along party lines.

Calls for his resignation came from the Democratic Town Committee, Democratic Rep. Kate Rotella of Mystic and Democratic state Senate candidate Bob Statchen of Stonington.

Republican Sen. Heather Somers of Groton, whose district includes Stonington, was silent on social media and made no press releases. Also mum was Stonington detective Greg Howard, who is running as the endorsed Republican for Rotella's House seat.

The incident is another good reason why a Stonington police officer is not a good choice for the people of Stonington to send to Hartford to represent them, to make laws that he would need to enforce. It's the same conflict that impacts Rep. Anthony Nolan of New London, a city police officer.

Candidate Howard's current handicap, in not being able to speak out against a police commissioner, his boss, doesn't help his colleagues on the police department separate themselves from a boorish police administration.

Rotella can and did speak out, to the credit of the town and the department.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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