FAIRHAVEN — A Weeden Road resident has filed a state ethics complaint against selectmen Chairman Brian Bowcock for sending a letter to his employer, allegedly to have him disciplined at work for town events.
In June, Bowcock wrote a letter on town letterhead without the approval of the rest of the board to the president of the Rhode Island School of Design detailing alleged “threats” against health board Chairman Peter DeTerra made by RISD professor and Fairhaven resident Henry Ferreira.
A month earlier, Ferreira had filed a complaint form with the Board of Health about the town’s wind turbines’ “undulating” noise disrupting his sleep.
In the form’s comment section, Ferreira also described what he saw as DeTerra’s failure to act in the public interest as chairman of the Board of Health. “To think the health board not only had the opportunity but the obligation to stop this and didn’t is outrageous,” Ferreira wrote. “Peter DeTerra deserves all that will rain upon him.”
The day after receiving the complaint, DeTerra filed a police report saying he had been threatened.
“I am a victim,” DeTerra told The Standard-Times Monday. “My life was threatened. My family was threatened. My wife was upset. I was upset.”
Police investigated the incident in May but did not file charges.
According to a police report, the responding officer “informed Mr. DeTerra that this was not a direct threat and could be interpreted in a number of ways” and was planning to “talk with Mr. Ferreira and advise him that this is not the way to get things accomplished and that if any threats are made he will be charged criminally.”
The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission confirmed Ferreira had filed a complaint but would not discuss the nature of the complaint.
In June, Bowcock sent his letter to RISD, explaining that Ferreira’s use of his university email address in filing his complaint could put the institution at risk of legal action.
“I am sure that your institution also has some type of policy that should limit the threatening emails that Mr. Ferreira disseminates,” Bowcock wrote. “I bring this to your attention in the hopes that harassment charges will not need to be brought and your institution will not be required to appear in court.
“I believe Mr. Ferreira has every right to freedom of speech, but he has reached a point where his threats against the chairman of the Board of Health have become a police matter.”
Ferreira said Monday he was outraged upon learning about Bowcock’s letter, accusing Bowcock of trying to “cost me my job.”
“What I wrote was a dumb statement but it wasn’t a threat,” he said in an interview with The Standard-Times last week. “He wanted to keep me quiet about the turbines and is painting a picture of me as some kind of crazy person.”
Selectman Bob Espindola said Monday neither he nor fellow board member Charlie Murphy had been aware of Bowcock’s letter until Ferreira complained to him in September.
“It was his assumption that because the letter was written on town Board of Selectmen letterhead, all of the selectmen were involved,” Espindola said. “In reality, neither me nor Charlie were affiliated with the letter and it was absolutely inappropriate to use the town letterhead.”
In September, the two wrote a separate letter to RISD refuting Bowcock’s letter, informing the president that they wanted to “set the record straight.”
“We most certainly did not ever deliberate on this issue inside or outside of any selectman meeting, nor did we ever give Mr. Bowcock the authority to write any such letter on our behalf,” they wrote. “He did not represent us or the town of Fairhaven in any way.”
In an interview Monday, Bowcock would not speak specifically about the incident but said he would “only speak in the hypothetical.”
“Let’s say someone sent a threatening hate email to a town officer and police brought it to my attention,” he said. “I would decide to forward that information to the organization that email came from because Fairhaven has a policy against bullying and maybe they do, too.
“I don’t have any problem defending my action. If this hypothetical person is going to send a threatening hate email to somebody in today’s day and age with the killing in Newtown, Conn., and the Colorado movie theater shooting, I think we need to take these things seriously.”
The Board of Selectmen has since approved a new policy to only use town letterhead on letters signed by all three selectmen and voted on in open session.