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USF police investigate Facebook comment seen as threat to Muslim speaker

Linda Sarsour, who helped organize the Jan. 21 Women?€™s March in Washington the day after President Donald Trump?€™s inauguration, was scheduled to speak Wednesday at the University of South Florida. [Linda Sarsour]
Published Oct. 11, 2017

TAMPA — A man who claimed to be a Florida Hospital employee posted a Facebook comment that some see as a threat against a Muslim-American activist who was set to speak Wednesday night at the University of South Florida.

Florida Hospital fielded a series of tweets and Facebook posts that demanded the firing of Wes Giuliano, including one from Shaun King, a New York-based Black Lives Matter activist and writer.

"Dear @FloridaHospital," King tweeted on Tuesday. "What your employee, Wes Giuliano, says here is an illegal death threat. This cannot be accepted."

King's tweet includes a screen shot of the Facebook comment from Giuliano, who identified himself on social media as an employee of Florida Hospital Zephyrhills.

USF police said they investigated and determined the comment about New York-based activist Linda Sarsour did not warrant criminal charges but warned Giuliano he would be arrested if he sets foot on campus.

In the comment, Giuliano asks, "Any idea which hotel she's staying at, the make/model/color of the car she's riding into campus in, which entrance/exits she will be using, and whether or not she will be wearing any body armor? Asking for a friend."

The comment was deleted, though screen-shots are making the rounds on social media.

Sarsour, who helped organize the Jan. 21 Women's March in Washington the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration, said she would not cancel her appearance.

She said she often gets comments from people who disagree with her views, but this one was different.

"People are free to say whatever they want and they do, however disrespectful and racist," Sarsour told the Tampa Bay Times. "But this is a threat and it's unacceptable."

Comments like these are growing all too common, said Ibrahim Hooper, national director of communications in Washington, D.C., for the Council on American Islamic Relations.

"Unfortunately it happens quite frequently," Hooper said. "Any time a prominent Muslim appears in public, there is going to be some hate push back. These people have become more empowered recently."

Hooper said Giuliano's comment was a threat on Sarsour's life.

USF police learned of the Facebook comment Tuesday and contacted Giuliano, said Capt. Meg Ross, public information officer.

Asked whether police would beef up security for Sarsour's speech, Ross said, "We already have officers who are working the event. "

Giuliano could not immediately be reached for comment.

Florida Hospital responded on social media to criticism of him from Shaun King and others. On Facebook, the hospital said it was talking to law enforcement.

"This is an active investigation," the Facebook post says. "We are working closely with USF Police Department, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Zephyrhills Police Department."

Florida Hospital would not confirm Giulano has worked there but Richelle Hoenes-Ahearn, division director of corporate communications, said "an internal review and investigation" was being conducted.

Contact Jonathan Capriel at jcapriel@tampabay.com. Follow @jonathancapriel

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