Protect and Serve Yourself

Of all the crack security guards U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright could have hired to defend him from terrorist attack, the 8th District congressman from Northeastern Pennsylvania chose Leonard Namiotka.

But how much protection can Democrat Cartwright expect from a retired Scranton cop who accidentally shot himself in the hand in 2009 while off duty and showing off his personal Glock 27 (40 cal.) semi-automatic pistol to the owner of a Scranton supermarket?

Namiotka “readily” called his self-inflicted gunshot wound a “mistake,” according to a puff piece Scranton Times-Tribune interview at the time of Namiotka’s 2023 retirement. The “bullet left a reminder: a thin scar on his palm a few centimeters across,” the story said.

 “I didn’t have my mind on what I was doing,” Namiotka said.

Now Cartwright doesn’t have his mind on what he’s doing.

When I called Cartwright’s Scranton office Wednesday to talk with Namiotka, the Cartwright staffer who answered the phone said Namiotka wasn’t in the office. The staffer asked who was calling and if he could take a message. I identified myself and said I was writing a story about Namiotka and wanted to talk with him about his employment with Cartwright and how he once shot himself.

“One moment,” the man said before putting me on hold to listen to some zippy instrumental music. After a few minutes the music stopped, the line rang again and the same man answered the phone.

“Congressman Cartwright’s office,” he said.

I told him it was still me.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m trying to get some information here. Hold on a second.”

I went back to the annoying zippy music.

Within minutes Cartwright’s congressional hotline rang again.

“Congressman Cartwright’s office,” the same man said for the third time.

Me again, I said.

Cartwright’s staffer told me Namiotka wouldn’t be in the office Wednesday and said he’d put me through to the congressman’s voicemail so I could leave a message. The man refused to identify himself before connecting me to the voicemail where I left a message.

I had already repeatedly asked in writing to interview Cartwright about Namiotka, but the congressman refused to talk with me. In a written statement, Cartwright’s Washington D.C. Chief of Staff Hunter Ridgway cited security concerns for refusing to answer detailed questions about Namiotka.

“Security coverage has long been provided to members of Congress and their staffers working at the U.S. Capitol. Following physical attacks on U.S. Representatives at district events and assaults on staffers working in district offices, the U.S. Sergeant at Arms has been leading efforts at enhancing security in all Congressional districts across the country, including ours. 

“Our office has followed these recommendations to ensure the safety of our constituents, our staff members, and yes, the safety of protestors who gather outside our offices. And ensuring that safety means we’ve hired security. And my apologies but divulging further information on our specific security protocols runs counterproductive to these safety efforts.”

“I’m not asking Ridgway to give away state secrets,” I responded in an email to Cartwright’s Communication Director Wendy Wilson. “I’m asking for public information about Leonard Namiotka, an individual congressional staffer, with a reckless gun incident on his resume who the congressman employs as a security guard.

“Ridgway’s refusal to provide basic public information about equal opportunity in hiring, posting jobs, scheduling interviews, hours worked, full or part-time pay, benefits, etc. reflect poorly on the congressman’s public service and transparency. Honest answers are always better than a news story listing relevant questions Rep. Cartwright refuses to face — questions any constituent or member of the press might ask him at an upcoming videoed public event.”

Here are additional questions I emailed Cartwright that he refuses to answer:

Did Cartwright know Namiotka shot himself at a previous job before hiring him to this job? Does Namiotka carry a loaded firearm on duty? Is Namiotka a federal employee? Is he employed full-time? Does he receive federal benefits of any kind? Is his job a union position? Did Rep. Cartwright advertise the security position opening Namiotka filled? Did Cartwright interview other candidates for the job? Does the congressman employ other security guards in other district offices? Has Cartwright received any threats?

On March 8, 2024, International Women’s Day, I joined a small group of local good citizens outside Cartwright’s Scranton office to call attention to Cartwright’s complicity in the killing of Palestinian women in Gaza.

Because of a brisk wind, one of the protesters leaned a paper sign against a wooden sandwich board standing on the sidewalk that advertised a bar code connecting cell phone scanners to Cartwright’s official website. A uniformed man wearing a brown shirt with “SECURITY” on the back and a circular patch printed with the words “Congressman Cartwright” on his shoulder rushed from inside the office and told the woman to remove the sign from what he called “government property.”

The woman apologized and quickly complied with his order.

The man’s name tag identified him as “Namiotka,” whom I recognized as a city police lieutenant who served as interim chief when a former chief retired in 2020 and Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti named Namiotka to lead the police department. Cognetti demoted Namiotka back to lieutenant in 2022 when she appointed current Chief Tom Carroll.

When I asked Namiotka, 56, if he still worked as a Scranton police officer, he said he retired and now worked for Cartwright and the Lackawanna County Sheriff’s Department.

“Retirement is good,” Namiotka said.

Shortly after this exchange two marked city police vehicles showed up and parked at both ends of the block where they remained for about an hour. Chief Carroll said he was “unaware of any complaints being made for the March 8 gathering.”

The following day Namiotka accompanied Cartwright when the congressman marched in the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade — this time wearing a windbreaker with no official patch or identification designating him as an official congressional security guard.

During the parade several pro-Palestinian protestors chanted “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME” at Cartwright during a few awkward minutes he paused from marching and stood in the middle of the street. A noticeably jittery Namiotka faced the small group in a wide stance, brandishing his umbrella with both hands the way riot police often do with batons in tense situations.

When the parade moved on Namiotka sidled up to rookie Lackawanna County Commissioner Matt McGloin — who had changed position from closer to the front of the parade to Cartwright’s side  — laughed and patted the former NFL quarterback on the back.

Cartwright refuses to say if Namiotka received a paycheck for marching in the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade. Will Cartwright pay Namiotka or other security guards to accompany him on future campaign or work-related trips and events?

Will Namiotka sit outside Cartwright’s house to protect the congressman like a rescued guard dog from increasing numbers of peaceful, good citizens who see him as a warmonger defense contractor puppet? Protesters dedicated to promoting peace showed up the morning after the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County annual dinner to drape a Palestinian flag across the gate to Cartwright’s massive Moosic mansion and remind him he’s helping Israel unleash another day of genocide in Gaza.

By his smug unwillingness to tell transparent truth, scaredy-cat Congressman Matt Cartwright cavalierly disrespects public service. As for Namiotka, he’s just doing his job — whatever that is.

Although the Times-Tribune article about Namiotka’s retirement reports an internal investigation “cleared” Namiotka, the story goes deeper than the fawning coverage the local daily newspaper provided.

In response to questions about whether city officials disciplined Namiotka for his gun negligence, Scranton Police Chief Tom Carroll said in a written response, “Given a situation such as this, an officer would likely receive remedial training and if warranted by an internal investigation, they may be subject to disciplinary action.  I am not privy to the results of this specific internal investigation from 2009.”

Carroll did not explain how he, the Scranton police chief, is not privy to a Scranton Police Department internal investigation into a former Scranton police chief.

In response to my state Right-to-Know Law request, Scranton “Agency Open Records Officer” Kelsey Widdick provided the 2009 incident report city police filed in the aftermath of Namiotka’s potentially fatal and embarrassing misfire.

Marked “CONFIDENTIAL INVESTIGATION” into “NEGLIGENT WEAPON HANDLING” and “EXCEPTIONALLY CLEARED” all on the same day as the incident, the police report documents Namiotka’s recklessness at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, February, 8, 2009.

Namiotka admitted shooting himself in the hand – becoming perpetrator and victim at the same time — as first responders helped stop the bleeding.

According to the incident report, “The bullet appeared to have gone through his left palm. Lt. Namiotka stated that at approx. 1615hrs he was showing John Brunetti( Owner of Brunetti’s ) his off duty Glock 27 (40 cal.) Namiotka and Brunetti were in a cooler in the back of the store at the time. Lt. Namiotka further stated that he unloaded the weapon and showed Mr. Brunetti how it worked. Lt. Namiotka then loaded the weapon and released the magazine to show him another feature. When Lt. Namiotka attempted to eject the chambered round, the weapon discharged and the round went through his left palm. Lt. Namiotka called 911 and had them send an ambulance and a supervisor. Mr. Brunetti was not injured and the spent round was located on the floor of the cooler.”

When hospital officials released Namiotka, his co-workers even returned his gun to him..

Why did Scranton police fail to charge their colleague and supervisor with the illegal discharge of a firearm or recklessly endangering another person, a crime upon conviction in Pennsylvania that can result in a fine of $5,000 and one to two years in prison?

Why did Scranton police consider this potentially deadly shooting a “confidential investigation?” Why did Scranton police clear their criminal case within hours, declaring “inactive” the disposition of this shameful gun violence danger?

Officer discretion? Back the blue damage control? One-of-our-own syndrome?

When it comes to public safety Namiotka’s itchy trigger finger is bad enough.

But he only shot himself in the hand once.

Through public cowardice, corporate collaboration and elite deceit, small caliber Congressman Matt Cartwright shoots himself in the foot every day.