Right-wing blogger, radio talk jock, and occasional paid informant for the FBI Harold “Hal” Turner has been having a hell of a time. He claims he’s been unfairly jailed by the feds, “railroaded” by a corrupt Connecticut legal system, and forced into bankruptcy simply for voicing his “edgy, partisan” views.
Now that he’s finished his prison term for threatening federal judges and has been acquitted of charges he “incited injury” against officials in this state, Turner is ready to go on the attack again.
Turner, who never lived in the state, is suing Connecticut officials for $50 million for violating his civil rights. And he’s appealing his federal conviction. “I did not say I was going to kill anyone,” insists Turner, who has been barred by his federal sentence from operating a website or appearing on TV or radio for three years.
Connecticut officials are declining to comment on Turner’s legal action against them and the state.
His lawsuit is based on a state arrest stemming from a vitriolic 2009 blog post. In it, Turner denounced a couple of Connecticut lawmakers for legislation that would have given ordinary Catholics more authority over church finances. Turner labeled the bill an attack on religious liberty.
He urged Catholics in this state to “take up arms and put down this tyranny by force.” He suggested that, if the cops got in the way, “I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too.” And he hinted he would soon publish the home addresses of the two legislators, then-state Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven and then-state Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford, as well as a state ethics official named Thomas Jones, who was at the time investigating Catholic Church officials for alleged illegal lobbying.
Remember that this was coming from a dude who was facing federal charges for posting the photos and work addresses of three federal judges who had upheld a Chicago city ordinance banning handguns and assault weapons. Turner called the judges “traitors” and added, “These judges deserve to be killed.”
Lawlor, McDonald (who are now members of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration) and Jones all acknowledged that Turner’s blog posts made them nervous.
So Connecticut State Capitol Police called Turner up.
According to the lawsuit Turner filed last month in New Jersey federal court, he told the Connecticut cops that he was “not bringing my fat ass to Connecticut.” As for his blog post, he told the police, “I hope no one goes off the deep end and does something terrible.”
That explanation didn’t stop him from being arrested and charged.
(The bill Turner was so whipped up over was withdrawn several months later.)
Civil rights lawyers in this state warned prior to his state trial that it would be an extremely tough case for prosecutors to win given the protections on free speech granted by the U.S. and Connecticut constitutions.
It had taken federal prosecutors three separate trials before they were able to get a conviction and a 33-month sentence for Turner for his inflammatory comments about those judges.
In September 2011, a Connecticut jury found Turner not guilty of all the state charges.
“I think the acquittal was more than justified,” says John Stawicki, a Hartford public defender who was assigned to represent Turner. “The state went out of its way to go after him for his political comments.”
“Would you rather have people shooting their mouths off or keeping quiet and actually doing violence?” asks Stawicki. “I’d rather know who these people are... That’s what the First Amendment is all about.”
But Stawicki didn’t want to comment about Turner’s federal lawsuit against Connecticut officials. “The justice system did the right thing when he was acquitted,” according to Stawicki, “whether he should sue them is up to him.”
In June 2012, having completed his prison term for the allegations involving federal judges, Turner was released from a federal prison in Indiana. (He then spent four months in a halfway house as part of the conditions for his release.)
Turner says his request for $50 million for violating his civil rights is “designed to be punitive in nature” to prevent other public officials from abusing their positions. That amount will also cover what he figures is compensation for the time he spent in prison.
According to Turner, he’s offered to discuss a settlement of his case with Connecticut officials.
“I did not receive a reply,” he adds.