CLEARWATER, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - A Clearwater man was arrested Wednesday after police say he threatened to kill Florida state government officials and President Donald Trump's supporters. Detectives are speaking about the arrest telling CW44 News at 10 they have zero-tolerance for threats in their community.
Clearwater Police Lieutenant Michael Walek was at the forefront of the investigation this week. Police say those threats came from 61-year-old Richard Szala of Clearwater. "We got information from an internet-based intelligence gathering source that this was being posted on YouTube," said Lt. Michael Walek.
Officials tell CW44 News At 10, it was just after 3:00 a.m. Wednesday when the Florida Fusion Center received info that Szala had been leaving comments on YouTube videos, threatening to kill trump supporters, his neighbor, and several others on November 4th. "We've had cases where people have threatened, you know, schools, people at Walmart, but people have to realize that we don't know if you're joking or not joking. We take everything seriously," said Lt. Walek. Police say Szala also threatened to kill senators McConnell, Graham, Paul, Rubio and Scott along with representatives Jordan, Gaetz, and Governor DeSantis.
When asked if he's ever seen anything like this before, especially during elections, Lt. Walek says, "Take the election out of it, we treat all threats like this serious because we don't know if they're true or if they're joking or just saying stuff out of anger. So, yea this one was specifically targeted, or mentioned members of the Republican party, but we treat all of them seriously."
A search of his IP address led to his home in Clearwater. Detectives teamed up with the FDLE, the FBI and Secret Service before contacting Szala at his home. "We put a plan into motion. Made contact with him and then subsequently interviewed him," said Lt. Walek.
Upon interviewing him, police say they were able to get a confession, his firearm, computer, and his phone. "He was cooperative. He did surrender his firearm and some other equipment to us. It was an in-depth interview and a long day," said Lt. Walek.
Szala was arrested and has been charged with false report concerning the use of a firearm in a violent manner. In other words, he faces a felony charge. "If there's probably cause for a charge, we're going to make that charge because, again, we don't know if you're serious or not. You can't just take no responsibility for your words," said Lt. Walek.
Police say Szala was also charged with harassment by phone in Illinois in 1989. CW44 News At 10 will provide further updates as they become available.
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