A Northampton County, Pa., man removed from Sen. Pat Toomey's town hall meeting after he asked the Republican senator about nonexistent reports that Toomey's daughter had been kidnapped said Friday he was disappointed to learn that police intend to charge him.
For Simon Radecki, 28, the decision to charge him represents "a startling reminder of what it's like to live in the United States, or at least Pennsylvania, nowadays, where someone can literally be arrested and taken into custody for asking a pointed question."
Others found Radecki's question startling.
DaWayne Cleckley, vice president of marketing for PBS39, which hosted Thursday's town hall in Bethlehem, called the question inappropriate and said he preferred the approach taken by some protesters outside, who stood peacefully and occasionally marched.
"I think that speaks to the type of dialogue that we want to procure in our community, where people can really express themselves thoughtfully and meaningfully, but it has to be civil, especially now, when we are in the time period we're living [in] where our nation is so divided."
The Bethlehem Police Department on Friday said it intended to charge Radecki with disorderly conduct and disrupting a public meeting. They said he would receive a summons in the mail but did not indicate whether he would face misdemeanor or summary counts.
The decision highlights an ongoing national debate about what counts as free speech at a time when some argue political discourse in the nation is at an all-time low.
Toomey's town hall meeting — his first in-person public meeting in months — had a highly structured format. Nearly 400 people submitted questions for the Republican senator. A group of local journalists and academics weeded through them and selected ones to be asked during the hour-long session, which was broadcast live.
When Radecki's turn came about 40 minutes in, he said he chose to go off-script and ask a different question from his original submission.
He began by thanking the senator for his time and acknowledged that they had been gathered there "for a while."
"You probably haven't seen the news," he said, according to video of the event. "Can you confirm whether or not your daughter Bridget has been kidnapped?"
"Uh," the senator responded.
"The reason I ask is, because that's the reality of families," Radecki said before his words trailed off and people pulled him off stage and out of view of the studio audience.
"That's, that's a ridiculous question," the senator said.
A moderator then moved on to the next question, and the rest of the meeting continued without incident.
Radecki said Friday that the rest of his question would have asked the senator about his plans for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offers protection to some young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States to work or study when they were children.
President Trump has issued contradictory statements on DACA. Its end could potentially make thousands of young immigrants eligible for deportation.
Many immigrants in the Lehigh Valley call their children immediately after the school day ends because they fear that their loved ones will be deported, Radecki said.
"The reality for a lot of families is that they're having to contend with that fear every single day," Radecki said. Toomey "maybe experienced it for a brief moment, but there are families who live with that fear almost every single day."
He added later that he "wasn't advocating any kind of danger around anyone. I was using a hypothetical situation to make a point."
A spokesman for Toomey declined to comment Friday beyond reiterating the senator's comment Thursday night that he felt Radecki's statement was ridiculous.
Toomey told reporters after the town hall meeting Thursday that he felt the children covered by DACA were a "very sympathetic population." He said he objected to DACA because he believed that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, did not have legal authority to decide not to enforce "a whole category of the law."
The senator said he would like to see legislation to address DACA but did not offer specifics.
"We should do it at a time when we're also addressing other challenges in immigration, like making sure we have border security, making sure that we're not looking the other way when employers illegally hire people, but it's a sympathetic group of people and we should find a way to deal with them," he said.