Court stalls case of so­cial me­dia threats on cops

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

The Michi­gan Supreme Court in­ter­vened to de­lay the trial of a Detroit man who faces ter­ror­ism-re­lated charges af­ter he was ac­cused of threat­en­ing po­lice of­fi­cers on Face­book — giv­ing the high court time to con­sider claims that the case should be tossed out be­cause the on­line posts are pro­tected un­der the First Amend­ment.

Nheru Lit­tle­ton’s case had been slated to go to trial Mon­day in Detroit’s Wayne County Cir­cuit Court. But the Michi­gan Supreme Court ruled Wed­nes­day that the trial would be post­poned while it con­sid­ers whether to let the case go for­ward.

At­tor­neys for the 41-year-old auto fac­tory worker ar­gued the charges against him should be dropped be­cause the com­ments posted on Face­book are pro­tected speech and do not rise to the level of what would be con­sid­ered a “true threat.”

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union has also joined in the fight to see the case dropped, warn­ing that Mr. Lit­tle­ton is be­ing pros­e­cuted for anti-govern­ment speech.

“The lan­guage causes a lot of anger,” said Dan Korobkin, deputy le­gal di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Michi­gan, of the Face­book com­ments at hand. “But trans­lat­ing that into an ar­rest and a felony pros­e­cu­tion is an abuse of power.”

Mr. Lit­tle­ton is ac­cused of post­ing a se­ries of threat­en­ing mes­sages on Face­book last sum­mer, in­clud­ing praise of a lone sniper who days ear­lier had killed three po­lice of­fi­cers in Dal­las.

“All lives can’t mat­ter un­til Black Lives mat­ter !!!! Kill all white cops!!!” read one mes­sage ob­tained by po­lice.

Mr. Lit­tle­ton was one of four men ar­rested in July by Detroit po­lice in con­nec­tion with mes­sages on so­cial me­dia threat­en­ing of­fi­cers. Af­ter re­view­ing the ev­i­dence in the case, a lo­cal pros­e­cu­tor said there was no ba­sis for crim­i­nal charges.

But the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral later re­viewed the ev­i­dence and opted to charge the mil­i­tary vet­eran with mak­ing a ter­ror­ist threat and us­ing a com­puter to com­mit a crime. The felony crimes are pun­ish­able by up to 20 years in jail.

“A threat to law en­force­ment of­fi­cers is a threat to us all,” Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bill Schuette said at the time. “This is a fight worth fight­ing. We can­not al­low it to be open sea­son on po­lice.”

Mr. Schuette’s of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on Wed­nes­day’s rul­ing.

The high court’s rul­ing or­ders the Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice to re­spond to Mr. Lit­tle­ton’s ap­peal ap­pli­ca­tion within 28 days. The court or­dered that the pre­vi­ously sched­uled trial “not oc­cur un­til the com­ple­tion of this ap­peal.”

At the time the posts were made, Mr. Lit­tle­ton was on va­ca­tion in Puerto Rico and in­tox­i­cated. His at­tor­neys asked Cir­cuit Judge Vonda Evans to dis­miss the case in March, but she said the posts caused a “rip­ple ef­fect” that cre­ated fear among po­lice that they would be tar­geted for vi­o­lence and de­clined.

“True threats wound by their very ut­ter­ance,” Judge Evans said, ac­cord­ing to The Detroit News.

Mr. Lit­tle­ton’s at­tor­neys, Leon Weiss and Wade Fink, ap­pealed the de­ci­sion to the Michi­gan Court of Ap­peals. The court re­jected the ap­peal in May.

In a last-ditch ef­fort to avoid “a very pub­lic trial,” the at­tor­neys asked the Michi­gan Supreme Court to con­sider an ap­peal, ar­gu­ing that the lower courts had erred in not find­ing that Mr. Lit­tle­ton’s com­ments were pro­tected un­der the First Amend­ment, and al­low­ing the case to move for­ward.

“Words that are un­spe­cific threats and are not rea­son­ably con­strued as in­cit­ing im­mi­nent vi­o­lence can­not be pros­e­cuted,” they wrote in the pe­ti­tion to the state’s high­est court.

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