WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - Prince William County residents are concerned that police are being used to intimidate and chill free speech.
It all started when Prince William County Supervisor Andrea Bailey was caught on a hot mic discussing a resident who had just presented to the County Board of Supervisors. Another Prince William County resident responded by sending an e-mail to the entire board expressing his frustration and anger with the board's activities and the moment caught on tape.
That got him a visit from Prince William County First Sergeant Bradford Cavender.
"Nothing you said was in any way shape or form illegal or anywhere near it and if you want to keep doing your First Amendment activity go ahead do it," said Cavender. "I think that's great. People should do whatever they feel the need to do to impact local government or any government for that matter. I just wanted to make sure that you knew that if you say something that might be considered edgy, or getting near the line, they're gonna automatically forward it over to us. And since my shop is the one that catches that stuff, I just wanted to see if you had any questions about what that line was."
Cavender can be heard telling the man that he did nothing wrong and did not break any laws. Now, residents say that police response chills their free speech, including Elena Schlossberg. "Actually, I will say it is chilling for me too. I reread everything I send now. If I say your decision is gonna blow up in your face, oh my god does someone think I'm actually intending that I'm going to send a bomb? So it does have an effect," said Schlossberg.
When Supervisor Bailey received the e-mail, she was concerned and forwarded it to her husband, Rev. Cozy Bailey. He shared her concerns and forwarded it to the Chief of Police Peter Newsham.
"It was primarily the subject line of the email that bothered me," said Rev. Bailey. "It said 'government target.' I couldn't discern what that had to do with the content of the email so out of an abundance of caution decided to forward it to the police department for disposition."
Rev. Bailey also sits on the citizens' advisory board to the police department -- a position that drew ire from at least one county supervisor.
"Most people in Prince William County do not have direct access to the police chief," said County Supervisor Jeanine Lawson. "And he abused that access. And it's chilling and we want the chief to have a public conversation with us about it."
County Executive Chris Martino confirmed to FOX 5 that Chief Newsham will attend the next County Supervisor Board meeting in September, and he will be available to speak on this matter.