Michigan man jailed for anti-cop rant raises free speech fears

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

For two weeks Nheru Lit­tle­ton has been held in a Michigan jail on $1 mil­lion bond, await­ing a chance to fight the ac­cu­sa­tion he made a threat of ter­ror­ism — a crim­i­nal charge that a lo­cal Detroit prose­cu­tor al­ready de­clined to bring due to lack of evidence and that civil rights ad­vo­cates see as overkill that could chill free speech.

The threats in ques­tion were posts the 40-year-old auto fac­tory worker is ac­cused of mak­ing on Face­book in July, among them praise to a lone sniper who days ear­lier had killed three po­lice of­fi­cers in Dal­las.

“To those sniper’s in Texas, I com­mend your brav­ery and ac­tions!!! #black­lives­mat­ter,” prose­cu­tors said one post read.

“All lives can’t mat­ter un­til Black Lives mat­ter!!!! Kill all white cops!!!” read an­other.

The posts were dis­turb­ing, to say the least, ac­cord­ing to Wayne County Prose­cu­tor Kym L. Wor­thy. But ul­ti­mately the Face­book mes­sages were deemed too vague — they didn’t meet the stan­dard of a “true” crim­i­nal threat, and Ms. Wor­thy’s of­fice de­clined to bring crim­i­nal charges.

“There is no evidence the sus­pect took any ac­tion him­self, or did any­thing to fa­cil­i­tate the killing of white of­fi­cers,” Ms. Wor­thy wrote in a state­ment is­sued in Au­gust ex­plain­ing her decision.

That’s where the case ended, at least un­til Michigan At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bill Schuette got in­volved. The state’s top prose­cu­tor as­signed in­ves­ti­ga­tors to re­view the case and an­nounced this month that two felony charges — mak­ing a ter­ror­is­tic threat and us­ing a com­puter to com­mit a crime — would be brought.

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

Mr. Lit­tle­ton was ar­rested Oct. 5, and though he had re­mained free since po­lice re­leased him from cus­tody af­ter ques­tion­ing him in July, his bond was set at $1 mil­lion. It’s an amount the former Ma­rine and his fam­ily haven’t been able to pay.

For the last two weeks, at­tor­ney Leon Weiss said Mr. Lit­tle­ton has used ac­crued leave from his fac­tory job to off­set his time in jail. But he wor­ries that if his client re­mains in jail much longer, the fa­ther of two will lose his job.

District Judge Michael McNally de­clined to lower the bond dur­ing a hear­ing last week. Mr. Weiss be­lieves the high bond was set by the pre­sid­ing judge “as a show of sup­port for po­lice of­fi­cers,” not be­cause his client con­sti­tutes a real threat.

“Even if some­thing is dis­turb­ing and of­fen­sive, there is a cer­tain lat­i­tude in this coun­try for say­ing things,” Mr. Weiss said. “I’m wor­ried about the govern­ment, in­stead of act­ing out of strict pros­e­cu­to­rial and eth­i­cal con­straints, if they are try­ing to make an ex­am­ple out of some­body.”

A spokes­woman for Mr. Schuette said it was a po­lice cap­tain, not prose­cu­tors, who ar­gued for bond at Mr. Lit­tle­ton’s ar­raign­ment.

Detroit Po­lice Chief James Craig pre­vi­ously de­fended his decision to pur­sue charges in the case, say­ing that in a cli­mate in which po­lice of­fi­cers are be­ing tar­geted for vi­o­lence, he could not sit idly by when threats are made.

But civil rights ac­tivists, who be­lieve Ms. Wor­thy cor­rectly in­ter­preted the law in de­cid­ing there wasn’t enough evidence to sub­stan­ti­ate charges, are con­cerned that the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s decision to press charges could be taken as a threat by those who seek to speak out against po­lice.

“Even if you think this per­son went over the line, what kind off mes­sage is the at­tor­ney gen­eral try­ing to send to the public at large?” said Dan Korobkin, deputy le­gal di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Michigan. “Do we have to be con­cerned that if we are very crit­i­cal of law en­force­ment, that we are go­ing to get a knock on the door and find our­selves in jail?”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Free speech ad­vo­cates are con­cerned that Nheru Lit­tle­ton is be­ing held in jail af­ter writ­ing anti-po­lice Face­book posts.

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