Get ready to get angry, because this story from the Washington, D.C. suburb of Prince William County, Virginia is enough to make your blood boil. Republican members of the county’s Board of Supervisors are demanding answers from the county’s police chief after a police sergeant showed up at a resident’s home to ask some questions about an email sent to Democratic member of the county board earlier this month.
As InsideNoVA reports, the email was sent back on August 3rd with the header “Government Threat.” Supervisor Andrea Bailey shared the email with her husband, Rev. Cozy Bailey, who’s also the head of the Prince William County NAACP and a member of the Prince William County Police Department’s Civilian Advisory Board. In turn, Rev. Bailey forwarded the email on to Prince William County Police Chief Peter Newsham, telling him that there was “more malice in the subject line than in the rant contained in the body of the email, but we take all communicated threats seriously.”
The problem is that there wasn’t malice in either the heading or the body of the email. Instead, the email complained about the county government “threatening” conservatives who’ve dared to criticize the Democrat-controlled Board of Supervisors. Despite that, the author of the email still received a visit from the Prince William Count Police to discuss his missive. Bodycam footage of the visit reveals the sergeant told the resident that he hadn’t done anything wrong and “wasn’t in trouble,” which raises the question of why he was sent to the home and who told him to go. After the visit, the sergeant followed up with the resident via an email of his own.
“I want you to know my sincerity is genuine, in not wanting to dissuade you from exercising your first amendment rights to petition your government,” wrote the sergeant, whose name is redacted in the documents. “The purpose of my visit was solely to provide any guidance if welcomed, as it pertains to the law.”
In a subsequent email to his supervisor, the sergeant wrote that the author “intended to continue to send his vitriol to the BOCS, but also conceded he understood he used ‘poor wording’ in the subject line of his email.” The sergeant says that the author was referring to residents being government targets in the subject line, not targeting the government.
In a later memo to [County Executive Chris] Martino, Newsham writes that the police follow-up was standard procedure in situations in which “residents of the County believe they are the victim of online threats or harassment.”
The email has been posted online with redacted identifying information, but it leaves out a line in which Newsham refers to the author as Mr. Hand.
It is unclear if the author is Robert Hand, a local Second Amendment advocate who is frequently critical of the board. Body camera footage of the author’s interaction with police was uploaded by Potomac Local and the subject appears to resemble Hand. The email also references the Second Amendment, and [Republican Supervisor Pete] Candland called the author “a vocal critic of the Democrat majority.”
Candland and his fellow Republicans on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors say they’ve heard from a number of residents who are disturbed and angry over the police visit, and they’re demanding answers from Chief Newsham at the next supervisors’ meeting scheduled for early September.
Candland sent an email to constituents about the incident on Saturday and said “Some would say the email was harsh and even impolite,” but it was not illegal.
Republicans framed the situation as potential intimidation of county residents for being critical of the government.
“Unfortunately for most Prince William County citizens, they don’t enjoy the luxury of having their concerns directly before the Chief of Police in less time than it takes to order a pizza,” Candland wrote. “In any level of government, there shouldn’t be a tier of safety and access for the powerful and influential and then one for everyone else.”
Candland wrote he will “use all of the authority I have as your elected representative to get to the bottom of what happened.”
“This type of extraordinary action could be seen as our government trying to intimidate a private citizen from being critical of the Democrat majority of the Board,” he added. “Some could see it as having a chilling effect on political dissent in Prince William County.”
We’ll see what, if anything, Chief Newsham has to say about this in a couple of weeks, but it certainly appears that the chief was pressured to some degree to respond to the email by sending a uniformed officer to the home of the sender, despite the fact that there were no threats communicated in the email itself. Was this “standard procedure” as the chief claims? Do the police really conduct home visits to senders of emails on a regular basis when the emails themselves do not rise to the level of threats or harassment? If so, it’s time for a new policy. If not, then why did a Democratic supervisor receive preferential treatment, and why did the chief allow his department to be used as a tool for intimidating conservative critics of the Democratic majority of the Board of Supervisors?