The events surrounding the ongoing mayoral recall movement in Fall River are frankly hard to believe and hard to follow.
The Bay State Examiner reported extensively on the wrongful arrest of George Thompson for recording Fall River Police Officer Thomas Barboza with his iPhone. In a related interview earlier this year, Mayor William Flanagan explained that he had “full confidence” in the police department and Police Chief Daniel Racine despite the blatant wrongdoing in Thompson’s case. Chief Racine and the Fall River Police Department appear to be repaying this confidence by assisting the embattled mayor.
Mayor Flanagan faces a recall election after a petition successfully gathered enough signatures to force a vote. Recallers cite city issues including high unemployment, financial blunders, out of control police, safety issues, and a controversial “pay as you throw” trash collection scheme as reasons for recalling Flanagan. Flanagan’s honesty and ethics are now in question too.
The tactics used by the recallers offer insight into social media era grassroots politics. One major source of momentum for the recall is a closed Facebook group called “Threw Up in Fall River,” a parody of the page “Grew Up in Fall River.” The parody page, which describes itself as "a virtual wasteland designed for any person in Fall River to voice their opinions about whatever they choose," gathered steam as people posted humorous pictures and memes mocking Mayor Flanagan. It has since come under legal fire for the sometimes inappropriate tone posters take when describing local politicians.
Interspersed on Threw Up in Fall River with the mockery are the genuine gripes of community members. The page has helped reveal just how widely unpopular the mayor is and has helped unite many unhappy residents.
The loosely assembled group of angry citizens decided to petition for a recall. Their first two attempts to submit recall paperwork were rejected due to formatting issues, but Jordan Silvia, an ex-police officer who now works as a clerk for a defense attorney, drafted a third set of recall papers that were finally approved.
Once the recall petition paperwork was accepted, the crew of political outsiders hit the streets collecting signatures and, because of the Threw Up in Fall River following, already had an online community of people ready and willing to sign. The recallers have also made their cause more visible by showing up in person at public meetings and the mayor’s events.
Throughout the campaign, Mayor Flanagan has turned himself into a living example of the sacred internet rule “Don’t feed the troll.” Each time Flanagan has reacted to the recallers has been a political disaster which, of course, has helped fuel further mockery. Flanagan, who used to be an assistant district attorney, has responded to the recallers by using the police and courts against them.
John Creeden, an active poster on the Threw Up in Fall River page and the mayor’s cousin, was slapped with criminal charges for posting a picture of Fall River’s Corporation Council attorney Elizabeth Sousa, who works under the mayor. The picture was taken from her Facebook and had vulgar text referencing Sousa performing her “best lawyers [sic] work” on her knees. Creeden claims he did not add the text, but did post the picture with the comment “Looks like the mayor's secretary needs to take some dictation.”
Some members of the recall group allege that the mayor and attorney are engaged in a sexual relationship and that the picture was posted as political satire. When Creeden sat down with The Bay State Examiner, he explained that he didn't make his comments with malice and was “kind of happy that the mayor,” who is married, “had a girlfriend.”
Creeden claims the Mayor threatened him in a series of phone calls when the image was first posted. Creeden said he filed an intimidation complaint against the mayor, but it was dismissed after a probable cause hearing.
The charges sought by the Corporation Council attorney and the mayor’s office against Creeden were in the harassment or stalking category, but according to Creeden the only potential violation Magistrate John O’Neil allowed to move forward to a hearing was a charge under M.G.L. c. 272 § 53.
According to the statute:
(a) Common night walkers, common street walkers, both male and female, persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy persons of the opposite sex, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons in speech or behavior, keepers of noisy and disorderly houses, and persons guilty of indecent exposure shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 6 months, or by a fine of not more than $200, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
(b) Disorderly persons and disturbers of the peace, for the first offense, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $150. On a second or subsequent offense, such person shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 6 months, or by a fine of not more than $200, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
Mayor Flanagan publicly endorsed the charge, telling The Herald News that “No man has the right to refer to any woman in an obscene or vulgar way.”
One thing to note about the Facebook post is that it was published in a closed group not accessible to the general public. Sousa did not have access to the page, so the accusation that Creeden accosted her is hard to understand in this context. Creeden said that he didn't even know who Sousa was when he commented on the picture and had not met her until he was brought into court to face her.
Furthermore, Mayor Flanagan, a former Assistant District Attorney, and Elizabeth Sousa previously worked for current District Attorney Sam Sutter, suggesting a conflict of interest in the prosecution.
The absurd saga continued with a now famous early morning car ride involving a conversation about the recall and the mayor’s firearm during which Flanagan allegedly threatened City Councilor Jasiel Correia, who had signed the recall petition. What exactly happened during this bizarre meeting is in dispute, but what is not in dispute is that the mayor and two other men met with the city councilor in the early morning and took them for a ride during which he displayed a firearm and spoke about the recall.
Councilor Correia, who told his side of the story on the radio, said that the mayor attempted to intimidate him into filing a false police report that would accuse the recallers, and Jordan Silvia specifically, of intimidating him into signing the recall petition. Mayor Flanagan denies threatening or intimidating Correia.
Correia reported the incident to Chief Racine, who said he “put the mayor on notice.” The Fall River police sat on the incident without taking any investigatory action for about two weeks before the councilor went on the radio and told his story. The police say that they didn’t act because Corriea didn’t press charges, but Silvia pointed out that Correia was not the only potential victim.
Jordan Silvia sat down for an interview with us and explained the personal repercussions he could have faced if Correia had accused him of threats.
“I started, along with a group of numerous people, this recall petition process to get rid of the mayor and what happened as a result was completely unimaginable and it has turned my life into turmoil,” Silvia said. “The conversation [during the car ride] according to the city councilor was regarding me and how I am on probation… because I was in this precarious position as a probationer… which would, if I was ever found to violate that, subject me back to the original charges [up to 30 years in prison]. That is why the mayor, according to the city councilor, was asking him to file a false police report against me. I have a pregnant wife at home. I have a one year old son at home. What the mayor was trying to do is was have me ripped from my family on false allegations.”
“Because I was trying to just have next November's election this November he decided to take all these actions against me,” Silvia said. “I could never in my life do to anyone what this man tried to do to me.”
Since Correia initially reported the alleged intimidation by the mayor, the district attorney appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the incident due to prior relationships with both the mayor and Correia, whom he has known since the young city councilor was in middle school.
In another strange move that feels like it was ripped from a “who’s the dad” episode of a trashy daytime talk show, Mayor Flanagan recently took a polygraph test which he says shows he did not intimidate Councilor Correia with his firearm. During the press conference announcing the test results, Flanagan’s lawyer admitted the test is not admissible in court.
Having not yet worked the system hard enough, Flanagan swore out an affidavit alleging that another Facebook post by John Creeden was threatening and constituted intimidation of a witness. Creeden posted a picture of a gravestone with the name “Flanagan” with the text “the last selfie.”
“Mayor Flanagan was putting up everyday selfies of him, so he just took something like 800 selfies in a matter of two months,” Creeden said. “It was just funny. When I said 'the last selfie' I meant it as an end to his political career.”
“[The report of intimidation] was sworn out four days before my hearing with Liz Sousa [over the derogatory Facebook post]. I would like to ask the mayor what witness were you because in the [first hearing] he said he wasn’t a witness. This is basically perjury,” Creeden said.
“I am the only person through all this stuff [being charged], the day I went to court with Liz Sousa they [posters on Threw up in Fall River] superimposed two pictures of [Sousa] and Casey Anthony. Basically they were comparing her to a baby killer, yet that person was never 'brought to justice,'” he added.
On October 10, John Creeden was back in court over the accosting charge, but the district attorney's office asked for more time because they were not prepared. Patrick McDonald, Creeden's lawyer, said the charges should be thrown because Creeden's actions don't fit the statute and are protected by the First Amendement. He also pointed to the conflict of interest in the district attorney prosecuting Creeden on behalf of a former employee. The next hearing is scheduled for October 20.
Meanwhile, on the very same day, City Councilor Pat Casey, a Flanagan supporter, filed a police report seeking charges over a separate Facebook post in Threw Up in Fall River that she claims was inappropriate.
Also on the same day, Jordan Silvia posted this comment on Threw Up in Fall River at 10:55 PM:
A few hours ago, I was driving my car with my 1 YEAR OLD SON, and PREGNANT WIFE in the car. I heard what sounded like a flat tire. I subsequently discovered 2 missing lug nuts and a third about to fall off of one of my tires. I subsequently called the #FRPD in an attempt to report the incident to them, which they told me to either drive to the station, or report the incident #Online.
I went online, and the only type of report that was similar was a vehicle vandalism report, and provided examples such as your car was #Keyed or some glass was broken.Make no mistake about it, this wasn't #FUCKINGVandalism, this was an attempt to #SeverlyInjureMyFamily.
So we now live in a city, where Mayor's can go around intimidating people with guns into filing false police reports and #AndNothingHappens. Someone can try to hurt my pregnant wife and small son, and #NothingHappens. But if John Creeden post an unflattering #FacebookPicture of the Mayor's #AllegedFloozy, they send in the #FuckingFRPDBrass. This city is an #AbsoluteFuckingJoke.
The post was followed up with an update saying that the Fall River police had voided Silvia’s online complaint and that they had taken a proper complaint in person. Silvia confirmed the incident to me by text.
City Councilor Raymond Mitchell is also now calling for another investigation into the mayor after new windows seemingly appeared on the sixth floor of Government Center without any payment made or contract signed.
Throughout these ordeals, Mayor Flanagan has declared time and again that he will continue on in the role as mayor and he plans to win the recall vote. Flanagan categorizes the recall as a minority trying to usurp the rule of the majority and his lawyer is attempting to secure an injunction against the recall vote being held.
The recall vote will be held in December, but the shenanigans show no signs of stopping. Get your popcorn ready.