Newspaper at odds with police over threatening letter

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(Host) A local newspaper is in a dispute with police over a threatening letter it received as part of an anthrax hoax. The Times Argus newspaper in Barre was shutdown for several hours on Monday after an editor opened the letter and white powder spilled out. The powder was later determined to be a sodium substance. Police kept the letter as evidence. But now the paper is taking legal action to learn its contents.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Times Argus Editor Maria Archangelo says the paper, like any media organization, sometimes gets complaints or angry phone calls. But she says the threatening letter on Monday came without any warning.

(Archangelo) “There was no build-up, no angry phone calls. Nothing.”

(Dillon) Deputy Editor Andrew Nemethy was going through the newsroom mail when he opened the small envelope. When the white powder spilled out, he put the letter in a plastic bag without reading it.

Police don’t want to make it public, because it may contain details known only to investigators and the letter-writer. But Editor Archangelo wants a copy, or at least some more information about its contents.

(Archangelo) “I understand their motives for wanting to keep the information in the letter secret. On the other hand, it was a letter addressed to the editor of the paper. I am the editor of the paper. And I think it does help us prepare more for what could be coming if we actually know what we’re dealing with.”

(Dillon) The newspaper learned from a source that the letter writer complained about the paper publishing bankruptcy filings, which are public record. The bankruptcies are also published each week by the Rutland Herald, the Times Argus’s sister paper.

Police told the paper that the threat was not directed at one person. But State Police Lieutenant David Harrington also said the letter indicated that the threat may be ongoing. He advised the paper to take precautions when handling mail.

(Harrington) “So I think law enforcement was very responsive to the needs of the Times Argus in terms of balancing that public safety issue with the legitimate law enforcement issue, which is preserving certain information that would only be known to the person that wrote the letter and law enforcement officials investigating it.”

(Dillon) Harrington also points out that the matter is out of his hands, since it’s now under federal investigation. The paper plans to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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