On the evening of August 10, Hannah Shaffer of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, decided to go to the nearby Barnes & Noble outside of Wilmington. She wanted to see Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who was promoting his book, “It Takes a Family.”
The event was billed as a “book signing and discussion,” Shaffer says.
But discussion was the last thing that the Senator’s people wanted.
Shaffer, her friends, and two other young women were booted out of the store and threatened with imprisonment even before they had a chance to say a word to Santorum, as Al Mascitti first noted in the Delaware News Journal.
Shaffer, 18, thought Santorum’s public appearance might be a good occasion to ask him a few questions.
“He is my Senator,” she says, and she wanted to challenge him on his notorious claim that legalizing gay marriage was akin to legalizing incest and bestiality.
“So I contacted a few of my left-leaning friends, and they said they’d really like to be there because they felt the same way,” she says.
When she arrived at 6:00 p.m., some of her friends were already there, along with two other young women she didn’t know, Stacey Galperin and Miriam Rocek.
As Shaffer was talking with her friends, Rocek made a joke.
She held up a copy of a book by the gay writer Dan Savage called “The Kid,” which is about how he and his partner adopted a son. And Rocek said, “It would be funny if we got Santorum to sign this book.” (To discredit Santorum, Savage and his readers in 2003 came up with a nasty definition of “Santorum” that now often appears on Internet searches for Santorum’s name.)
Not everyone enjoyed the joke.
“A woman nearby snapped: ‘He’s only here to sign his own book. He won’t sign that,’ ” recalls Galperin.
Shaffer says the woman also added, “You’re shameful and disgusting.”
For a minute, the young women thought that would be the end of it.
But no such luck.
A state trooper in full uniform, including hat and gun, was in the store, and, according to Shaffer and Galperin, he met with the person who didn’t care for the Dan Savage joke, along with a few others, including members of the store and Santorum’s people.
Galperin says she heard the trooper ask, “Do you want me to get rid of them?”
And then the trooper, Delaware State Police Sgt. Mark DiJiacomo, who was on detail as a private security guard, came over to the group of women.
Here is the conversation, as Galperin remembers it: “You guys have to leave.”
“Your business is not wanted here. They don’t want you here anymore. If you don’t leave, you’re going to be arrested. If you can’t post bail, you’ll go to prison. Those of you who are under 18 will go to Ferris [the juvenile detention center]. And those of you over 18 will go either to Gander Hill Prison or the woman’s correctional facility. Any questions?”
Shaffer remembers the conversation basically the same way.
“I said, ‘Sir, we’re not doing anything wrong. We’re sitting in a bookstore. On what grounds would we be arrested?’ ”
“He said, ‘This is private property. Are you going to leave on your own, or are you going to leave in cuffs?”
Shaffer decided to leave with her friends.
Galperin and Rocek decided to stay.
“That’s it,” he told them, according to Galperin. “You’re under arrest. Give me your ID. You’re going to prison.”
Sgt. DiJiacomo led the two out to his police car.
“You’re going to embarrass your families,” he told them, she recalls. “Your names are going to be all over the paper.”
He told Rocek to put her hands on the squad car, and then told both of them to call their parents and tell them to bring “at least $1,000 in bail money,” Galperin says.
Galperin reached her father, an attorney.
“I told my dad, ‘I’m under arrest for expressing dissenting opinions.’ ”
Her father asked to speak to the sergeant.
“Your dad says get out of here,” the sergeant told her. “He’ll meet you at home.”
And so they both left.
By this time, Hannah Shaffer managed to reach her mother on the phone, who was planning on going to the event anyway.
“She came and said whoever wants to return to the bookstore should come with her and we would talk respectfully to the police officer and to Barnes & Noble about why they had kicked us out and threatened to arrest us,” Shaffer says.
“Six or seven of the braver kids got in the car and we drove back over to the parking lot of Barnes & Noble,” she recalls. “We were standing outside in the parking lot and my mother went into the store. Just as she entered, the officer came out, and he saw us, and he drove over in his car very fast.”
Here’s her account.
“You’re under arrest. Get into the car.’
“But my mom took us over here and wanted to speak to you.”
“Do I look like your mother? You’re not wanted here. You had your chance. You showed up again. Now you’re under arrest.”
Shaffer said he then asked the ages of everyone in the group, and he used this information to further threaten her.
“Not only will you be arrested for trespassing, but I’ve got you on the counts for contributing to the delinquency of one, two, three, four, five minors,” he said, according to Shaffer. “Those are serious charges. Is that really something you want on your record? Is that something that will make your parents proud?”
And he warned them, she says, that they would be arrested if they ever showed up at the bookstore or the mall again.
At that point, he let Shaffer and the other young women leave.
“I was pretty upset,” Shaffer says.
So was her mother.
“These are the cream of the crop--the outgoing student class president, students who had given hundreds of hours of community service, kids who wouldn’t know how to cause trouble in a public place much less in their own basements,” says Heidi Shaffer, who had encouraged her daughter to go to the book signing. “This is unconscionable.”
Heidi Shaffer says she approached Sergeant DiJiacomo.
“I actually tried to talk humanely to the policemen,” she says. “He told me if I took any of the underaged kids in, I would be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
Heidi Schaffer says she is most upset about the strong-arm tactics of Sgt. DiJiacomo. “One of the girls came home and was hysterical for about two days,” she says. “Some even were afraid to tell their parents. That this hired gun can say whatever he wants and terrorize these kids is very, very scary.”
Sgt. DiJiacomo did not return my phone calls seeking comment.
“From all indications that we have, he handled his duties and responsibilities appropriately,” says Lieutenant Joseph Aviola, director of public affairs for the Delaware State Police. Aviola says two customers warned Sgt. DiJiacomo that the young women were planning a disturbance and that there had been a previous incident at a book signing with Santorum.
Aviola says it is not uncommon for Delaware state troopers, in their official capacity, to work for private contractors, who later reimburse the state.
Senator Santorum’s office did not provide comment on this story. Robert Traynham, communications director for Santorum, told me to contact the public relations firm that was handling the book tour, Shirley&Banister, in Virginia. Account Supervisor Kevin McVicker at Shirley&Banister failed to return three calls for comment.
When I contacted the Wilmington Barnes & Noble store and asked for a manager, someone named Pam came on the phone, said “No Comment,” wouldn’t give her last name, and hung up.
At Barnes & Noble’s headquarters, Mary Ellen Keating, senior vice president for corporate communications and public affairs, gave this account.
“I spoke to the assistant manager, and what she told me was that the store management was not consulted on how the situation was managed,” she says. “A state policeman, without consulting management, removed these students from the store.”
Drew Fennell, executive director of the Delaware ACLU, sees the incident in a larger context. “This is trickle down from Bush: Politicians are now keeping away, out of sight, anybody who disagrees with them,” she says. “If the Senator’s staff was so put off by the idea he might be asked a difficult question that they brought in the police, that’s a sad commentary on the state of political discourse. ”
Fennel is also particularly concerned about the participation of the Delaware state trooper. “That puts a different and far more disturbing face on this,” she says. “Frankly, it’s a great deal more intimidating to be asked to leave by an armed police officer threatening you with arrest than if the manager does it.”
She says Sgt. DiJiacomo “truly overstepped the bounds” in threatening the young women.
While the ACLU and the women involved have not decided whether to take legal action, they are considering their options.
© 2005 The Progressive