Borough investigating after racist social media posts surface

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By Lance Reynolds and Elio Gugliotti, Staff

Old comments made by police chief’s daughter; NHS students plan protest, call for unity

This is part of a screenshot of one of the social media posts that circulated Friday and prompted borough officials to initiate investigations. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — Borough officials are investigating after screenshots of racist social media posts made by a daughter of Police Chief Steven Hunt circulated on social media on Friday.

“In Naugatuck and at the police department, we condemn any act of racism or bigotry, in any form at any time. Racism and bigotry are totally inconsistent with our values and who we are as a town and a police department,” said a joint statement released by Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, Police Commission Chairman Ralph Roper and Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister.
Officials said they are gathering information internally about the posts and moving forward with investigations.

One of the posts reads, “My dad is now officially police chief so that means he’s more advanced in shooting black people then [sic] he just was a couple minutes ago.”
Hunt was sworn in as chief in March 2019.

Another one of the posts reads, “I’ll make my dad drive with lights and sirens and if we see any black people we will shoot them.”

In the statement, officials said they plan to bring in an outside agency to conduct a “comprehensive and independent” investigation. The Board of Education is also conducting a separate investigation, the statement said.

Hunt’s wife, Johnna Hunt, is the associate principal at Naugatuck High School.

Steven and Johnna Hunt released a statement Saturday condemning the posts made by about two years ago by their then 13-year-old daughter.

“On behalf of our family, we sincerely apologize to all those who were hurt by this,” they stated. “We are left, however, as parents of a scared, regretful child who has and will continue to suffer the consequences of her poor and inexcusable actions. While we fully intend to hold our daughter accountable for her mistakes, we will continue to offer her the same unconditional love any parent would show a child who has erred but showed remorse.”

The posts, which were sent privately to a juvenile acquaintance, were “despicable in nature and inexcusable,” the Hunts said.

“In no way, shape or form do they reflect our hearts, minds or the love we have for all our neighbors in this inclusive community,” they said. “These words do not represent the words spoken in our home or the values and lessons we have taught our children.”

ALEXIS SIGGARS, A SENIOR at Naugatuck High School, said she wants to see her community come together this week and provide a sense of safety and belonging for Black residents.
Siggars said she and other NHS students have planned a protest at the borough Green on Wednesday after school. She’s calling on students and community members to gather near NHS around 12:30 p.m. for a march to the Green, where students will voice their perspectives around 1 p.m.

“When people are hurt, this can reflect as anger in an ugly image. But it’s not,” Siggars said. “It’s coming from a place of being scared, being genuinely hurt to know a child thinks it’s OK to talk about getting in her car with her police father and shooting Black people, that’s unacceptable.”

Naugatuck High Principal John Harris sent a letter to parents and members of the school community Sunday, stating he spoke with students, parents and teachers about their needs.

“The overwhelming message I received was that this week, our students need to be able to connect with their adult allies in the building and to have those allies truly listen to them about their experiences, traumas, and needs as we seek to heal and rebuild,” Harris stated.

Students will have a modified schedule Monday and Tuesday, Harris stated, beginning with an advisory period at 7:30 a.m. Following an announcement from Harris, students will have until 9:30 a.m. to connect with teachers and staffers, while “expressing their feelings through writing, art or music.”

Harris stated there will be specific locations throughout the building for Black students to connect with Black teachers, while other locations will serve as quiet reflection spaces.

“Please know that these two days represent just the beginning of our response — both to the specific incident on Friday, and the ongoing racial inequities that exist at Naugatuck High School,” he stated.

Tenzin Dhondup, a junior at NHS who is helping Siggars organize the Wednesday protest, said the posts from Hunt’s daughter “mortified” him. He said there are also scheduled walkouts Tuesday and Wednesday, when students will walk out of school and gather on the school’s fields. There, Black students will be given a space to share their thoughts with their peers.

“There is a great divide in this town in terms of how parents and citizens are reacting to this,” Dhondup said. “There’s the one side which is completely denouncing the actions whereas there’s another that is deflecting the blame from the parents. I feel like by having people of color speak their voice and tell the public what they’re feeling we can work toward greater unity.”

Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said in a statement Friday that racism doesn’t belong in the schools nor in the borough as a whole.

“As a school community, we are committed to addressing issues of social justice and racism within our community,” he stated. “Our highest priority is, and will always be, making sure that students feel safe in our schools.”

THE BOROUGH, WHICH HAS ABOUT 31,100 people and is 71.8% white, has seen other instances of racist comments on social media connected to the police department in recent years. In 2017, the department suspended officer Jason Markette after he called a woman on social media a “mud shark,” a derogatory term for a white woman who sleeps with a black man.

Siggars said she believes residents feel like their voices are not being heard since Johnna Hunt is still employed as associate principal at NHS.

“If this would have been a student of color or an assistant principal of color, there’s no doubt in my mind or heart, that they would have been removed from our school,” she said. “It just shows there’s a very underlying systemic racism here, and actions are being taken differently because of the people involved and their privileges. That’s not fair.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Jan. 25.