Although many municipalities reported low voter turnout for last Tuesday’s primaries, tensions were high on election day in Chester Township.
A reporter observed raw, unedited video from the body camera of Joseph Colagreco, a worker at the Toby Farms Elementary School polls that double as the third and fourth voting precincts.
The footage captures Township Council President Calvin Bernard, Council candidate Robert Knox and Chester Upland School Board President Anthony Johnson hurling profanities and exhibiting seemingly threatening gestures to Colagreco and a woman identified as Sandra “Misty” Purnsley on school grounds.
Stemming from an argument prompted by Knox accusing Colagreco of planting trash bags and loose litter on a councilwoman’s property, the Democratic Council candidate asked Colagreco, who is white, if the reason he was wearing a body camera is because “the township is predominantly Black.”
“What does race have to do with it?” Colagreco asked, to which Knox responded, “I’m Indian! What you’re not going to do is be disrespectful, I’m not Calvin…I don’t argue with people.”
The exchange turned into a round of “get out of my face!” from both parties. Sources who wish to remain unidentified said the arguments could be heard from inside the polling place.
At roughly 3:45 p.m., during school dismissal, Purnsley was heard yelling, “Leave me the f**k alone!” to Bernard, who was shouting back, but his responses were inaudible over Purnsley’s yelling.
The footage shows Purnsley later walking by Bernard, who told her, “Why don’t you go commit suicide? Take some pills and drink some Jim Jones juice!”
“He got a body camera on there, yeah, put that on camera!” Bernard said, smiling and raising his middle finger to the camera.
Purnsely is heard threatening to call her son on Bernard, who responded, “I ain’t afraid of no man, I ain’t afraid to die. I ain’t afraid of no man!”
At roughly 8 p.m., while the polling place was closing, Colagreco, walking to his car, referred to Johnson, who was standing with Bernard at a distance, as “Anthony Jackass.”
Johnson, seemingly hearing the comment, replied, “Ay my man, ay my man, you ain’t even built like that.”
Johnson approached Colagreco’s car halfway and then turned away.
Purnsley’s phone appears to be disconnected as she couldn’t be reached for comment.
Bernard did not respond to multiple calls to both his borough phone and personal cell phone and Johnson declined to comment, but sources affiliated with the township Democratic candidates said that Colagreco is “constantly filming” people in the township.
When a reporter asked about Bernard’s wishes for Purnsley to take her own life and the other obscenities shouted on school grounds, the source said, “I can’t speak for Calvin, but I know he was just joking and that’s how they play around. Didn’t you see him smiling? I’m sure they’re laughing about it right now.”
The source evaded the question about Bernard’s other statements and instead asked, “Why is [Colagreco] filming with children around? That’s why we were telling him to take the body camera off. Kids were around.”
In the video, Johnson, Bernard and Knox did not urge Colagreco to remove his body camera “because of the kids,” as the source claimed. Glimpses of about two children were caught on film.
“My intentions were not to film the children, but to protect my well-being,” Colagreco told The Spirit. “If there were kids around, I’d blind my lens with my jacket to prevent the kids from being filmed.”
Colagreco said this isn’t the first confrontation, especially with Johnson, during the 2016 presidential elections. Following that experience, Colagreco said he sought legal counsel that advised him to wear a body camera and carry mace at the polling place.
“I’m just not able to go into the building, near the polls, with the camera recording. If I needed to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, I turn it off,” he said
Colagreco said as result of these two encounters, he will not work the polls this November and suggests that law enforcement be visibly posted at all five of the township’s precincts.