Westport police make arrests in threatening signs case
WESTPORT — An 18-year-old Westport resident and a juvenile were arrested in connection with dozens of threating signs recently posted downtown, some with anti-police messages and calling for the death of President Donald Trump, police said.
The signs appeared downtown on Sept. 27, prompting police to investigate after being contacted about them. One sign read, “This town is ours. Kill Trump. Fight the white.” Others said, “The only good cop is a dead cop.” Some signs also had the symbol of the Worker’s Party of Korea, according to police.
The signs were roundly condemned in a joint statement by elected officials across the aisle, as well as the leaders of the Republican Town Committee and Democratic Town Commitee.
“We denounced it then and I denounce it again today,” RTC Chair Joseph Sledge said Thursday. “There’s just no place for this.”
Detectives reviewed surveillance video and a followup investigation identified the suspects as Max Bernegger, a Staples High School graduate, and a juvenile, police said.
The juvenile was charged with second-degree breach of peace through a juvenile referral.
On Thursday, Bernegger turned himself in for the warrant out for his arrest. He was charged with second-degree breach of peace and posted a $500 court-set bond. He is scheduled to appear in state Superior Court in Norwalk on Nov. 17.
Bernegger was a member of the Young Republicans while at Staples, and also a former member of the Police Athletic League.
Bernegger could not be reached for comment.
The town’s DTC and RTC chairs again stated on Thursday that they were against all hateful language no matter who posted it, echoing the joint statement Sledge, DTC Chair Ellen Lautenberg, First Selectman Jim Marpe, Second Selectwoman Jennifer tooker and Third Selectwoman Melissa Kane put out just after the signs appeared.
“As chairs of the Westport Republican and Democratic Town Committees and elected leaders of Westport, we publicly and jointly denounce the hateful messaging that was discovered in town on Sunday morning,” the statement read. “We believe that regardless of political affiliation or personal beliefs, there is no place for disrespect, hateful messaging or violence to express one’s perspective.”
Sledge said when he was contacted by Launtenberg to jointly denounce the signs, he agreed and they then took it a step further to get the town’s leadership involved as well.
“We were thinking leading up to the election and beyond let’s be civil to one another,” he said. “Civil discource is a wonderful thing as long as we are respectful of both sides of the issue, and we respect the rule of law.”
Launtenberg said the DTC found it important to condemn hateful behavior regardless of who was being targeted.
“At the same time, I didn’t want it to be a political move,” she said, adding she felt it was important to have the RTC involved in the original statement.
Launtenberg said this particular campaign season has been unique despite her length of time involved in politics in town.
“There’s been a lot of energy focusing on this election,” she said. “A lot of emotion, and that kind of display of threatening kinds of messages is not really typical at all.”
She said it’s also important to state the motivation of the suspects is currently unknown.
“I’m not assuming they’re hateful people or really had any intention of doing something violent,” she said.
Sledge shared similar sentiments.
“It’s a teachable moment, but I think at this point in time the nature of the incident has risen to the judicial system,” he said. “There’s been an investigation, there’s been an arrest and there’s a process by which we deal with these things. ... Having said all of that I still hope that everyone can put this in perspective and wait to hear the facts.”