Feds: Man threatened journalists, subjects of race-related stories, Supreme Court justices

Photo of Christine Dempsey

HARTFORD — A Connecticut man with a history of threatening public figures mailed threatening letters to local journalists who wrote stories on racial issues, the subjects of those stories, and U.S. Supreme Court justices, federal authorities charged Wednesday.

Garrett Santillo, 43 of Washington Avenue, Hamden, appeared in U.S. District Court Wednesday where he was released on a $100,000 non-surety bond set by Magistrate Judge Thomas O. Farrish. Santillo declined to comment as he walked out of court with his family shortly before 5:30 p.m. His next court date was scheduled for July 26.

Santillo was arrested Wednesday morning at his apartment, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McGarry. He was charged with mailing threatening communications in some cases across state lines, McGarry said. A native of New Haven, Santillo also has lived in Torrington and Florida.

The prosecutor said that because Santillo is accused of threatening U.S. Supreme Court justices, he could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. McGarry told the judge that among the things Santillo wrote to his victims was, “You will die. You will all be killed.”

A number of the more than 100 threatening letters were sent to the homes of reporters and editors at Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the arrest warrant application shows. Those reporters had written stories with subjects who are Black and about race-related issues. A number of the people named in the stories also received threatening letters.

Some of the letters threatened the journalists over their coverage of race-related issues, the application shows.

“All the changes in this letter Must be followed or else punishment at peoples’ homes including yours will occur!” Santillo allegedly wrote.

One letter contained a similar threat, the affidavit states: “We are telling everyone including the head of the NAACP and the KKK and all similar organizations including all “white” supremacy organizations. People that don’t follow all this will be killed.”

At least one letter was intercepted by the postal service before it got to a reporter.

In court, Santillo, who was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, was polite, referring to the judge as “your Honor.” At one point, after Farrish did a routine explanation of the defendant’s rights and a court rule, Santillo said, “That makes sense to me.”

There was a lot of discussion about where Santillo would live, with his lawyer from the federal defenders office, Charles Willson, offering two options. Willson said he could continue to live with his aunt, who has promised to quit her part-time job to keep a closer eye on her nephew, or live with his parents in New Haven. All three relatives agreed to work together to monitor him.

McGarry wasn’t happy with the first option because the latest round of threatening letters were mailed when Santillo was living with his aunt, the prosecutor said.

“We have pictures of him with stacks of threatening mail,” he said.

Farrish said the court’s mission, however, is to find the least restrictive conditions for the accused as long as the defendant is not deemed to be a threat to public safety.

However, Santillo must adhere to more than a half-dozen conditions which include receiving continued psychiatric treatment, staying away from weapons of any sort, and having to be in the home from 7 p.m. -7 a.m.

Also, based on his previous convictions, any time he wants to mail a letter or send an electronic message to someone besides a relative, one of the three close family members must approve it, Farrish said.

Santillo’s convictions for similar threats go back to 2003.

In August 2016, Santillo was sentenced to five years of probation for sending threatening letters to public figures in Connecticut, including the New Haven police chief, Yale and Quinnipiac university administrators and federal judges.

He was indicted in September 2014 for sending threatening letters to the Connecticut officials about a homicide investigation from 1998, and he pleaded guilty to one count of mailing threatening communications in March 2015.

Santillo admitted he sent threatening letters to then Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, forensic scientist Henry Lee, U.S. District judges Robert N. Chatigny and Janet Bond Arterton as well as a former TV news anchor, Janet Peckinpaugh among others.

When authorities went to his Florida home on Sept. 29, 2014, Santillo made a statement about killing himself and moved out of the officers’ sight, prompting them to go through a window and use a Taser on him, documents show.

When police searched his home, they found unsent handwritten letters, including one to President Barack Obama in which Santillo threatened to kill the president.

Santillo has 2003 and 2008 federal convictions for sending threatening letters and a 2010 violation of his federally supervised release for sending a similar letter.

At one previous court appearance, Santillo’s defense attorney said he had been undergoing treatment at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown. At another, a different lawyer said he has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum.

The lawyer attributed Santillo’s two prior federal convictions and the more recent one as a result of that disorder.