Simon Radecki’s question was inappropriate and offensive but was within the bounds of free speech, District Attorney John Morganelli said, overruling police who initially planned to charge him.
Radecki, a 28-year-old activist, was picked ahead of time to be one of Toomey’s questioners at the Aug. 31 event at a PBS station in Bethlehem. When it was his turn, he thanked Toomey for taking questions but then veered off-script and said: “I know we’ve been here a while. You probably haven’t seen the news. Can you confirm whether or not your daughter Bridget has been kidnapped?”
Police yanked Radecki off stage as he continued, “The reason I ask is because that’s the reality of families that suffer deportation … .”
Nothing happened to Toomey’s daughter, and Toomey called it a “ridiculous question.” The rest of the town hall went on without incident.
Radecki said Monday he was trying to make a point about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. President Donald Trump recently ended the Obama-era program, which shielded from deportation nearly 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and gave Congress six months to come up with a replacement.
Bethlehem police initially told Radecki he would be charged, but Morganelli told them to hold off while he reviewed the case.
The prosecutor said he considered two charges — disrupting a public meeting and disorderly conduct — and concluded that Radecki broke no law.
“Clearly, Mr. Radecki’s question was stated in a callous manner without regard for what impact it might have on Senator Toomey” or his family, Morganelli said. “Nevertheless, the criminal law cannot be utilized to remedy insensitive conduct.”
Morganelli, a Democrat, informed Toomey of his decision via text. Toomey replied that he understood, the prosecutor said.
Toomey’s spokesman, Steve Kelly, called Radecki’s question “reprehensible” and “inherently threatening,” but he said the senator accepted Morganelli’s legal judgment.
Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Pennsylvania chapter, said Morganelli made the right call.
“The government can’t prosecute people for asking elected officials dumb, provocative or even offensive questions, just like prosecutors can’t charge politicians for making stupid and insulting statements (boy would they be busy!),” Walczak said via email. “Freedom of speech doesn’t always produce kind, thoughtful and wise expression.”
Radecki works for Make the Road Pennsylvania, an advocacy group for Hispanic immigrants. He said the hypothetical question was planned by the group and was meant to convey how thousands of immigrant parents fear their children will be deported.
Asked how he felt about Morganelli’s decision, Radecki said: “My friends who are DACA recipients are way more on my mind than what happened today. My concern (is) about what could happen to them in the next few months or next few years, the tons and tons of people who now need to prepare for who knows what.”
Toomey has said that while people brought to the U.S. illegally as children are “not at fault and deserve our support,” President Barack Obama didn’t have legal authority to create the DACA program. He called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul that includes an accommodation for young immigrants.
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