Mayor cites threats, harassment
The Cold Spring Village Board on Wednesday (Nov. 29) approved policies to combat what Mayor Kathleen Foley described as harassment involving a “First Amendment activist.”
Foley said that, since June, the Village Board, Police Department and village staff have been subjected to harassment that has escalated in recent weeks.
Earlier this year Leonard Filipowski, who online sources list as a 59-year-old resident of Fishkill, filed a complaint with the village, alleging he had been abused by Cold Spring police officers when he was issued a traffic ticket and during a subsequent appearance in traffic court.
Under the name Leroy Truth Investigations, Filipowski posts videos on YouTube that outline cases from around the country of what he portrays as egregious police misconduct. His channel has 29,000 followers; a 34-minute video about Cold Spring, posted two months ago, has been viewed nearly 51,000 times.
In another video that has received 40,000 views, he describes Foley as “the meanest mayor in America.” After filming at the village’s Community Day in July, he posted a video alleging “the people are scared” of local officers. He claims that Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke and Officer Kenneth Baker, who gave him the ticket, should be fired because they were named during past jobs in complaints or lawsuits.
In May, The Boston Globe described a scene in which Filipowski and a colleague provoked passersby outside a suburban public library in what they called a “First Amendment audit, a kind of performative protest that tests their free speech rights by confronting government employees in public places, often provoking objections that generate viewership. For municipal workers, the stunts add to the rash of hostile behavior many face these days.”
Filipowski has appeared at several Cold Spring meetings, along with supporters, shooting video, even after he was asked to leave when he became argumentative and disruptive during the public comment period. On one occasion, after a meeting, he and his supporters followed board members across the street to Doug’s Pretty Good Pub, where Filipowski was asked to leave by the owner.
Foley said Filipowski’s followers on YouTube are prompted to harass public employees and elected officials with aggressive, even threatening phone calls, emails and social media posts.
“I have received threats on my life and threats on the lives of my family sufficient to warrant engagement by the district attorney and the FBI,” Foley said. “This isn’t a game; it isn’t a joke. It is reckless, and frankly it’s a form of domestic terrorism.”
She said in the days after videos are posted village offices are inundated with what she described as disgusting, degrading messages. “The degree of misogyny, racism, sexism and violence in these contacts is simply nauseating,” she said.
Under the new policies, recording video or audio anywhere in Village Hall except at public meetings will require permission.
Rules governing the public comment period will also be tightened. Going forward, a majority of the board must agree at each meeting to hear comments.
“We recognize and value a person’s right to free speech,” Foley said. “But there are appropriate times, places and manners in which those rights can be expressed.”
There is no law in New York that requires municipal boards to hear comments except at public hearings. Each board makes its own rules. In a follow-up email, Foley said the Village Board would “consider questions from the press and the public on a case-by-case basis.” She added: “It is appropriate and lawful for the board to choose, on a meeting-by-meeting basis, to restrict comment to topics on the current agenda, so that discussions are focused and productive.
“None of us would have chosen to modify the public comment policy in the way we did had we and our staff not faced such pressing, unrelenting threats and chaos in session,” she wrote. “The policy does extend flexibility and discretion to the trustees on a meeting-by-meeting basis. It is my hope that our village meetings will return to normal order so that we can continue to be welcoming to residents’ desires to speak and engage.”
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