Manuel Pintado supporters pack Northampton courthouse

By Sam Butterfield

Flickr - wmcbride1965

Web Update – Feb. 10, 3:00 p.m.

Michele Catalano, Manny Pintado’s sister, provided the Collegian Tuesday evening with further information about Mr. Pintado, the University of Massachusetts student suspected of threatening a Florida lawmaker and his family over a contentious immigration bill. Catalano said she is not a resident of Bergen County, N.J., although her phone number is registered to that area code, but that she is a resident of New Jersey. She also said that, despite reports from David Entin, a friend and fellow parishioner of Pintado’s at First Churches Northampton, Pintado does not have a daughter at Princeton University, or a daughter at all.

A crowd of about 50 family members, friends, parishioners at First Churches of Northampton, community organizers and UMass sociology faculty members turned out at Northampton District Court Monday to support Manuel E. Pintado, who they know as Manny, as he faced extradition to Florida on charges that he sent threatening emails to a Florida State Representative.

“I’ve never had so many people show up for a client before,” said Northampton public defender Thomas Estes, who represented Pintado at the hearing.

Family members and friends called the 47-year-old sociology student at the University of Massachusetts, who until last year attended Holyoke Community College, an amiable pacifist with a passion for immigrants’ rights and state support of public higher education, though they said he suffers from anxiety and could sometimes become swept up in his own dedication and act excitedly.

Former UMass student and New York City resident Tito Espinosa, Pintado’s son-in-law, said the Navy veteran who served in the Persian Gulf War is “incredibly sweet to my mother” and “a docile person.”

First Churches interim pastor Mark Siefried, who was in court on Pintado’s behalf Monday, said Pintado works extensively in the community on behalf of the church, is a member of the congregation’s Peace and Justice Committee, and attends service almost every Sunday.

“Manny, we know him as Manny, is a deacon, which means he has been selected by the congregation at large to be one of the primary spiritual leaders of the church, which means he visits the infirm and people in nursing homes, helps prepare worship and serve communion and collect money with the offering every Sunday. He’s given a lot of responsibility for the spiritual welfare of young and old alike,” he said.

Siefried said Pintado is an ardent supporter of the marginalized and economically and socially disaffected.

“Manny has really been helping our congregation understand immigration issues and the plight of the poor,” he said.

Siefried, who is serving as interim pastor after former minister Peter Ives retired last year, also mentioned that Pintado participated in Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts’ (PHENOM) cross-state march for public higher education funding last fall.

PHENOM Western Massachusetts organizer Ferd Wulkan called Pintado “a really committed and passionate advocate for public higher education and for students, especially.”

Wulkan said he had known Pintado for about three years, but that he got to know him particularly well during the cross-state march, which took higher education activists from Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield to the State House in Boston last October.

“He spent a lot of time on that march just talking with people who we met along the streets and on campuses in a really gentle, sweet way,” said Wulkan, who was also in court Monday morning. “I’ve known Manny for a few years, and the biggest piece of time I spent with him was on that walk; I just ended up so admiring him, he’s someone who, at a relatively late age, enrolled in college, graduated from HCC, and enrolled at UMass. He’s a great organizer and a great conversationalist,” Wulkan said.

Siefried said he believes Pintado is more comfortable in Spanish than English, perhaps accounting for the intensity of some of his statements.

“I know Manny as a very peaceful, loving, gentle, Christian man, who is also very passionate. He says things that are sometimes surprising, but I think part of that is attributed to the fact that he crosses back between English and Spanish; I think he’s more comfortable in Spanish, and I think that accounts for him sometimes being misspoken.”

Northampton resident and chair of First Churches’ Peace and Justice Committee David Entin described Pintado as an active member of the church and committee who is well-read and eager to participate in community organization.

“Manny joined our committee and has been very active; he comes to every meeting, he comes just about every Sunday to church. He’s very friendly, certainly outgoing, very likable, and as a member of the committee he’s been very responsible.”

Entin said Pintado has lobbied the committee to devote some of its attention to public higher education funding in Massachusetts.

“One activity he’s brought to the attention of our committee has to do with public funding for higher education,” he said. “He brings PHENOM newsletters to our committee and shares with us their efforts to secure more state funding for public higher education,” said Entin, the former president for academic affairs at Holyoke Community College.

Entin said Pintado was married at First Churches last spring by former pastor Ives to Isabel Ortega, a 50-year-old Northampton resident, and has a daughter who is a student at Princeton University. A search of Princeton’s directory found no students with the last name Pintado.

Reached by phone at her Northampton residence Monday afternoon around 5 p.m., Ortega declined to comment, apologizing, and said “I’m sorry, I can’t help you, I can’t talk about it, I apologize,” before hanging up the phone.

Entin echoed other friends and supporters’ sentiment that Pintado could be called a pacifist.

“The other thing I would say about Manny is that he’s a very peaceful person,” said the 70-year-old native of Jacksonville, Fla. “I’ve never seen him get angry or yell or scream.”
Entin described First Churches as a fairly tight-knit congregation, though he said not all of the parishioners know each other intimately.

“If you attend for a while you do get to know the names of most people. You don’t necessarily socialize with everybody or socialize with the people at the church in terms of going to the movies or playing bridge, but it’s certainly a friendly church. People know each other and care about each other,” he said, “and that’s why we were shocked that this horrible incident happened, and that’s why we had 40 to 50 people in court today.”

Entin also said the congregation was pleased with Judge Goggins’ ruling.

“That’s what we hoped for,” he said of the Judge’s decision to allow Pintado to travel to Florida on his own, rather than being taken into custody by the Martin County Sheriff’s Deputies and U.S. Marshals who were waiting in court to take Mr. Pintado to Stuart, Fla., had Goggins decided to allow Pintado to be extradited. “I was pleased the Judge will let him go on his own feet, without being carried in shackles to Florida. This way he can show up and he can wear a coat and tie and can say, ‘I could have tried to escape but I didn’t,’ and hopefully he’ll be free while the case is being prepared.”

Entin acknowledged that, given the date Pintado allegedly sent the email, Jan. 8, the same day Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot outside a Tucson, Ariz. supermarket, the message appeared especially grave.

“It’s sad in terms of the timing, and it’s a very political issue [in Florida], I think Manny believes, ‘Oh, it was so stupid of me, I apologize.’”

Entin said that after Pintado was released, he and other congregation members had the chance to speak with him and embrace him.

“We did speak to him and hugged him later; he was in tears and hugging everybody and thanking us for being there and supporting him.”

Espinosa, Pintado’s son-in-law who was also in court Monday, also spoke to one widely-discussed element of the case, which some have argued illustrated Pintado’s intent to follow through with his threat, his December trip to Florida.

“I’ve been reading all the online clippings about this story and they all talk about him traveling to Florida last month, where he could have followed through on his cyber threat,” said Espinosa. “Him and my mother did travel to Florida [in December] on a sort of belated honeymoon, they were married about six months ago.”

As for what the honeymooning couple did while traveling to the Sunshine State: “They spent most of [the trip] bothering me with picture text messages of various ‘adorable’ cats and beach scenes.”
Pintado’s sister, Michele Catalano, a resident of Bergen County, N.J., corroborated Espinosa’s version of why Pintado traveled to Florida.

“I have seen various videos on the news online and [it] was said that he travel[ed] to Florida back in December for unknown reasons and possibl[y] to carry out a threat,” she said, “I haven’t read anywhere about the reason why he was in Florida, telling me that the police never asked him why he was in Florida; I’m sorry, but William Snyder is not that special for my brother to travel to Florida. What is special is that Manny went to visit our sister and uncle, who both live in Cape Coral. He spent his vacation with his family for Christmas and introduced his wife.”

Catalano also said Pintado suffers from an array of mental issues, which he developed after his time in the Navy.

“My brother came back from the Gulf War, he came back with anxiety, depression and mental illness. He has to take medication for life,” she said. “After reading what he wrote, with all the misspellings, I strongly believe that he did not take his medication, and when he doesn’t take his medication, he says things that he doesn’t mean. He is not a violent person or capable of such violence. He says things without thinking or in the moment.”
Espinosa said that, while he understands that authorities must take such threats seriously, he believes Pintado is no more dangerous than other misguided people who sometimes make irrational decisions with potentially violent implications.

“For sure he’s a dumba**, right up there with all the teenagers who call in fake bomb threats to their junior high schools and people like Sharron Angle who call for citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights, or Sarah Palin or people who show up to political rallies with nooses and shotguns, but he is not a killer, not even close,” he said.

Two members of UMass’ sociology department were also in court on Pintado’s behalf Monday.

Sociology professor and director of undergraduate programs Dan Clawson, one of the two faculty members who attended Monday’s hearing, also said he knew Pintado as passionate and sometimes capable of getting carried away in his eagerness.

“He is a passionate person who is deeply committed to social justice and eager to talk about it, and he is given to exuberance,” said Clawson. “He would go out of his way to help other people in need. He clearly sent an unfortunate email apparently, but in no sense did he actually intend any physical harm to a legislator in Florida,” continued Clawson, who also participated in parts of the PHENOM march.

Reached by phone at her office late Monday afternoon, sociology professor Eve Weinbaum, the other faculty member in attendance, said she did not personally know Pintado very well, but that she came out because she was shaken up and saddened by the incident.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]