BRANFORD, CT – Police have opened an internal affairs investigation into whether veteran officer Joe Peterson violated department policy in a Facebook exchange with Branford gun rights activist John Cinque, Capt. Geoffrey Morgan said Tuesday.
Peterson’s comments in the exchange have unleashed a firestorm in the days since it took place.
Bloggers, particularly from the right, have been all over the story since word and screen captures of the exchange filtered out.
In the exchange with Cinque — who in addition to being a gun advocate is an East Haven firefighter who has known Peterson for years — Cameron Smith and others, Peterson said that he would “give my left nut to bang down your door and come for your gun.”
The comment appears to have been aimed at Smith, who in an earlier comment appeared to have baited Peterson, saying that “POLICE OFFICER Peterson would round up Jews and put them in ghettos, if the government told him to.”
Cinque said he “was shocked” when he saw Peterson’s comments “because I thought I knew” him. “I was shocked at the standpoint that it’s someone that I do know that would have these views … Somebody that I’ve known for a long time.”
Asked if they were friends, Cinque said, “If Joe Peterson had called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m broken down on the highway,’ yeah, I definitely would come up there. We’re friends from the standpoint that he was a police officer in East Haven and I’m a fireman … It’s all a brotherhood.”
But they don’t socialize outside of work, he said.
Morgan said the police department is looking into the matter.
“He made a comment on Facebook” during a conversation “between him and a couple of people that we’re taking a look at,” Morgan said, “and we launched an ‘IA’ international investigation … to see if he violated any of the department policy and rules…including our social media policy.”
Peterson, a one-time East Haven K-9 officer who moved to the Branford department a number of years ago, has been honored multiple times in his career — including for catching alleged murderer Lishan Wang in April 2010 after Wang allegedly shot Dr. Vajinder Toor outside Toor’s Brushy Plain Road condominium.
Peterson currently is on extended workers compensation leave following an accident in his squad car, Morgan said. His listed telephone number has been disconnected, his Facebook page appears to have been taken down or made private, and he could not be reached for comment.
“We treat every allegation concerning our agency with the utmost of seriousness,” said Chief of Police Kevin Halloran in a press release. “This, like any other allegation, will be thoroughly investigated and if any law, departmental rule or regulation has been violated, the officer will be held accountable.”
The hyperlocal news site The Branford Seven on Monday reported that there was internal affairs investigation underway and that Peterson allegedly made the comments while off-duty.
Cinque, who has had dozens of calls and e-mails — and maxed-out his Facebook friend list — in the days since the exchange, said he met with Halloran for two hours Tuesday, in part as part of an effort on both sides to cool things down.
“He was very welcoming. He listened. He wants to make sure that things don’t get out of control,” Cinque said.
“There have been threats made — that I found out about today,” he said.
Police could not be reached later to verify that.
“We’re going to try to throw water on this thing and get it calmed down …” Cinque said. “The whole premise of where Joe’s coming from has to be addressed, and now it has been … Now it’s time to calm it down …
“The problem now is, we have a forest fire burning, and we’ve got to see how we can go about extinguishing it,” he said.
Cinque, who previously had been in the news for his stand against ever disarming, has been a little surprised by his celebrity.
“I’ve carried a gun every day for 30 years,” he said. “Haven’t shot anyone.”
What’s more, “people who know me know that I’m outspoken about ALL of the rights afforded to us by the Constitution” and not just the Fourth Amendment, he said, “because you can’t just cherry-pick on the Constitution.”
He said the exchange with Peterson, on an item he believes somebody else posted Cinque’s page, was the first he can recall having with Peterson in the digital world.
Cinque subsequently referred to the exchange in a recorded interview with Joe Visconti, a Republican candidate for governor.
Does Cinque think Peterson should be disciplined?
“I believe he needs to have a remedial course in the United States Constitution,” he said. “I am not looking for a pound of flesh. That’s for the individual person to decide.
“I wasn’t looking for the firestorm that has occurred, but there are a lot of people out there who are upset with the path that we’re on in this country,” Cinque said. “I know that the people who get elected do not understand the boiling pot of water that is going on in this country … People are saying, ‘No more, not an inch further,’ and it makes for a difficult situation.”
While the exchange has been widely covered, Cinque said he’s not the one who made that happen.
“Any quotes that you see from me … are because they reached out to me” and asked, he said.