(Advisory: This story contains language that some readers might find offensive)
By Gina Cherelus and Tea Kvetenadze
(Reuters) - The man suspected of killing five people in a Maryland newsroom posted a barrage of hostile tweets over more than two years about the newspaper but law enforcement remained unaware of those posts until after the attack, the local police chief said on Friday.
Police, however, had known that the suspect, Jarrod Ramos, had posted threatening comments on his web page about the newspaper, which he had unsuccessfully sued for defamation in 2012.
“We were not aware of that history until last night. Should we have been? In a perfect world, sure, we should have been. We were not,” Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare conceded about the tweets at a briefing the day after the shooting at the Annapolis office of the Capital Gazette news group.
“We get a threat call a day. It is hard to keep up with them,” Altomare said.
Ramos had accused one of the Capital Gazette’s newspapers, The Capital, of defamation for reporting on his guilty plea to a misdemeanour charge of harassing a female acquaintance online.
After his suit was tossed out of court in 2013, Capital Gazette attorneys and officials alerted police about “frank comments” online by Ramos directed at the newspaper and its journalists, Altomare told the briefing.
But during a 2013 conference call between Capital Gazette attorneys and police investigators, lawyers said the company decided against pressing harassment charges against Ramos, the chief said.
“There was a fear that doing so would exacerbate an already flammable situation,” Altomare said.
A representative from the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which owns the Capital Gazette, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When asked why the department did not insist on pursuing criminal charges at the time, Altomare said it was the investigator’s call and he would not question it in hindsight.
“If it is felony, we push,” Altomare said. “If it is a misdemeanour - a lot of misdemeanours go the way of not charging. I don’t feel the department was negligent in any way.”
Ramos began by at least 2014 to post regularly on a Twitter account about his legal battle against The Capital, using a handle that incorporated the name of the reporter who wrote the story that triggered the failed defamation lawsuit.
The tweets on the account @EricHartleyFrnd referenced the battle against The Capital, its then-editor Thomas Marquardt and reporter Eric Hartley, who has since left the newspaper.
“Yes, Eric Thomas Hartley, you moved to ... oh just go ahead and kill yourself already before I do (legally in court),” read a tweet in 2014.
The account abruptly went silent in January 2016. But on Thursday, before the newsroom shooting began, a new post appeared: “Fuck you, leave me alone @judgemoylanfrnd,” a reference to Judge Charles Moylan, who upheld the dismissal of the defamation case in 2015.
Ramos, 38, from Laurel, Maryland, faces five counts of first degree murder in Anne Arundel County criminal court.
Marquardt told the Baltimore Sun he was not surprised to hear Ramos identified as the gunman.
“I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence,” Marquardt said. “I even told my wife, ‘We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.’”
Reporting by Gina Cherelus and Tea Kvetenadze in New York; Writing by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler