Black workers from Mississippi allege that on Sept. 1, 2021, a 24-year-old white solar farm worker threatened to kill Columbia, Miss., native Ryan Luter, 21, and other Black workers from the State at a worksite in Canterbury, Conn. A Connecticut State Police report identified him as John Aniello.
The Mississippi Free Press obtained the incident’s redacted Connecticut State Police report and removed reference to Aniello’s home address in the document. The report explained that it started at about 2:45 p.m. that day, and Aniello was “mad” because he “hurt his hand” while working and began “yelling at the crew and stated he would come back and kill them and called them N*ggers,” the report stated.
The reporter could not reach Aniello for comment because calls did not go through via publicly available phone numbers for him.
In March 2022, six of the crew from Mississippi—Ryan Luter, Ralph Luter, Ralph Brown, Dwayne Gardner, Elijah Dampier, and Teven Lockhart—filed a “race discrimination and hostile work environment” case against TerraSmart, their employer at the time of the incident, alleging that the company “failed to remediate the hostile work environment once it was reported to them.” Stamford, Conn.-based attorneys Lewis Chimes and Mary-Kaye Smith filed the lawsuit. Ryan Luter and Ralph Brown are Ralph Luter’s sons.
“At all times mentioned herein, the defendant tolerated a hostile environment for African-Americans at the Quinebaug solar Center in Canterbury, CT,” the lawsuit says.
They further alleged that the company “failed to take steps to protect (plaintiffs) or prevent John from returning to work” the next day.
‘I Want to Kill all the N….’
The plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that Aniello “threatened to slap this n— (referring to Luter)” because he was “angry at” him.
“As a matter of fact, I want to kill all the n….,” Aniello allegedly continued angrily.
“As the other workers sought to intervene, John kept repeating that he wanted to kill the ten n—– from Mississippi and that he was going to get his gun and shoot all ten of them,” the court document continued.
Ryan Luter’s father, Ralph Luter, 49, was also one of the Mississippi natives who were on the job site.
“We heard a guy come off the hill walking, doing a lot of cussing; we didn’t know what was going on and why he was cursing, and I noticed that he went to his car and got something out of his car and put it in his pocket,” he told the Mississippi Free Press in a Sept. 6, 2022, interview.
The older Luter related to the Mississippi Free Press what he says Aniello said.
“I hate these motherf*ckers. I can’t stand these motherf*ckers. I’m sick of these motherf*ckers,” Ralph Luter allegedly heard Aniello say.
The court document says that “after making the threat, John went to his car, took something out of his car, and put it in his pocket.” Ralph Luter told the Mississippi Free Press that he witnessed that happen.
The lawsuit said Aniello “then went to the Terrasmart office on site and spoke to the supervisors.”
“After John came out of the office, Houston Wilson patted John on the back, and John got onto an ATV and drove away. He did not leave the work site,” it continued.
The plaintiffs alleged that the on-site supervisors “did nothing in response to Ryan Luter’s report of John’s threatening and racist behavior” after “Ryan Luter and his crew had reported it directly to (one of the supervisors) on Wednesday (Sept. 1, 2022) afternoon.”
‘Terrasmart Had a Legal Duty’
On Sept. 2, 2021, there was no work on site because of heavy rain, but work resumed the next day, Friday, Sept. 3., 2021.
When Ralph Luter noticed Aniello was at work that Friday, he asked one of the supervisors why.
“So as we did our exercise and got done, I raised my hand up and asked why John was still here and why they didn’t report that John had called my son a n*gger and called me n*gger called my other son, a n*gger, and called the rest of us n*ggers, and said he was going to kill us,” Ralph Luter told the Mississippi Free Press and later shared video recordings of that and subsequent interactions with others on the issue that day.
Ralph Luter noted that the supervisor asked both John and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to leave the worksite with John immediately, but Ralph Luter refused, wanting a more concrete redress.
The lawsuit stated, “Terrasmart Human Resources and the state police were eventually called at plaintiff Ralph Luter’s insistence.”
The Connecticut State Police explained in the report that the information they received before coming to the site was that an “employee verbally threatened other workers; told by (the) supervisor to leave the (site); employee John Amiello … said he was going home to get a gun and come back.”
“After speaking with the police and providing statements to Terrasmart, the plaintiffs left. The plaintiffs did not feel safe continuing to work for Terrasmart at the Quinebaug Solar Center project,” the lawsuit stated.
In the court document, which represents just one side of a legal dispute, the plaintiffs alleged that “Terrasmart had a legal duty to prevent racism, harassment, violence in the workplace, and train its “supervisors to report and remediate racism, harassment, and violence in the workplace.”
The plaintiffs said that the superiors’ reaction was to “protect John, the white employee, and get rid of the Mississippi plaintiffs,” and “never took any steps to prevent John from returning to work.”
The police report said that Aniello “stated he never said anything above” but “expressed that he had a family member die from a Black guy in a MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident).” Aniello had no registered weapon, according to the report.
The law-enforcement agency told Aniello not to return to the property or face arrest for trespassing while informing the company to call 911 if he did, the report said.
‘Terrasmart Did Everything It Could’
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Chimes, said the “racial death threat created a hostile environment and … TerraSmart is legally responsible, and they have a duty to respond to threats of violence or racial accusations immediately and remediate it. The claim is that they really failed to do that.”
On Jun 27, 2022, Terrasmart filed a motion to dismiss the case. “Even if Plaintiffs could establish a hostile work environment, they are unable to impute the conduct of John, a coworker, to Terrasmart,” the company stated in the motion. “Terrasmart did everything it could to stop the allegedly offensive behavior by John, and, in fact, did stop the behavior. Plaintiffs do not allege that the conduct continued after lodging the complaint and John left the worksite.”
The company further stated that plaintiffs “are unable to input liability for John’s conduct to Terrasmart,” it concluded. “Plaintiffs do not allege that John engaged in any conduct before September 1, 2021, that would have put Terrasmart on notice of a propensity for John to make racially derogatory slurs or threats.”
‘They Look at Other White People Differently’
TerraSmart’s lawyers, Kimberly Natalie Dobson and Kyle Roseman, did not respond to email requests for comments on Sept. 21, 2022, nor to a reminder email sent on Oct. 14, 2022 or to calls and texts to their phone numbers that same day.
Attorney Chimes told the Mississippi Free Press on Oct. 11, 2022, that “the case is moving” along.
The experience had “a traumatizing effect on all of the guys,” Rev. Derrick McGowan, the spokesperson for the six Mississippi natives, told the Mississippi Free Press by phone on Sept. 20, 2022. “They look at other white people differently; when they go to other jobs, it’s on their mind, ‘when will I encounter racism? Will my life be threatened?'”
“The lead guy—Ralph Luter—as a matter of fact, I know he’s gone to psychological counseling. These guys weren’t able to sleep for days and weeks because they’re constantly thinking about this incident in which they easily could have been killed,” McGowan said. “And one of the biggest things with the younger guys who were the sons, they are in their early twenties, this was their first real encounter with discrimination or with a potential hate crime.”
“And that’s the real motivation for pursuing legal action against the company so that they won’t have a similar practice happen to someone else,” he added.