Chief: No arrests as ‘Zoom bombing’ case is now closed

The Southold Town Police Department announced in a press release Tuesday that it is closing its investigation into a pair of racially charged “Zoom bombing” incidents at virtual town meetings last winter.

In the release, sent to members of the media by Chief Martin Flatley, police say no arrest will be made and that the town has taken steps to ensure similar incidents do not occur in the future. The town did not elaborate on what specific actions were taken to secure meetings, but they are now hosted as webinars with no option for the public to comment without “raising their hand” and being given access to participate.

“Southold detectives opened an investigation into both of these incidents, and during the course of their work, consulted with the Southold Town Information Technologies Section, the Suffolk County Police Department’s Computer Crimes and Hate Crimes Sections and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Hate Crimes Task Force,” the release states. “In an attempt to identify the origin of the subjects that entered these meetings and posted comments several subpoenas and a court order under Sec. 2703 of the Stored Communications Act were served and no active leads were identified.”

The Southold Town Board’s Jan. 4 meeting was marred by an online audience member typing racial slurs, crude remarks and a death threat into a chat window of the town’s official Zoom webinar. It was the second virtual town meeting in as many weeks to be disrupted by racist remarks.

A Zoom participant using the name “Janet C” posted the racial slurs and crude remarks during the morning meeting. After a few minutes without acknowledgement, the user posted a racially charged death threat. The posts went undeleted for the duration of the roughly hour-long meeting as board members, all of whom were present at Town Hall, continued to conduct the business of the town. Ordinarily the Town Board meetings are set up so only panelists can see messages, Town Supervisor Scott Russell said at the time.

A similar issue was reported to Southold Town Police following a Dec. 20, 2021 virtual meeting of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force, a committee made up of a diverse group of community members. Following that meeting, members Sonia Spar, Valerie Shelby and Christopher North submitted a letter to Chief Flatley detailing the incident.

They said three unknown individuals yelled racial slurs during the meeting, also hosted via Zoom. Once muted, the three continued to type slurs into the chat and the meeting was eventually stopped. 

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