Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced criminal charges against Nheru Gowan Littleton of Detroit, for his social media posts that threatened the lives of police officers. Clarence Tabb, Jr., The Detroit News
The state’s attorney general announced Wednesday charges against a Detroit man for making a terrorist threat against police after he allegedly posted on Facebook that black people should “start killing all white cops.”
The announcement comes two months after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy declined to charge the man because she said his social media post didn’t rise to the level of a crime.
Nheru Gowan Littleton, 40, is accused of making a terroristic threat and using a computer to commit a crime, both 20-year felonies. He allegedly wrote on July 9: “F them racist a__ cops!!! Kill them ALL. Black Lives Matter. Black people should start killing all white cops just like they are killing us!!!
“Then and only then will this s___ stop. Why you ask? Because white people will be dropping like flies!!!”
Littleton’s was one of three cases from July where police say threats were posted on social media. Worthy’s office declined to seek charges in two of the cases and asked for more investigation in the third.
Attorney General Bill Schuette said during a press conference Wednesday at Detroit police headquarters the post constituted a terrorist threat.
“This type of action endangers law enforcement, makes our schools and neighborhoods less safe, and encourages violent behavior which threatens the lives of law enforcement across the United States,” he said.
Police arrested Littleton on Wednesday night after a manhunt.
Schuette’s remarks are in contrast to Worthy’s Aug. 30 written statement that “the case could not be charged under Michigan’s terrorism statute.”
Worthy added: “The statement (made by Littleton) is vague. He did not indicate that he was the one who was going to kill all white cops, and never said that his Facebook friends should kill all white cops. Further, he did not indicate when all white officers should be killed or which white officers should be killed.
“There is no evidence the suspect took any action himself, or did anything to facilitate the killing of white officers.” Worthy added Littleton was in Puerto Rico when he wrote the post, and said he couldn’t be charged because he wasn’t in Wayne County.
When asked to comment on the differing legal opinions about whether charges could be brought, Schuette said: “These charges are solid and substantive. I stand with the cops. These threats are serious. They provoke violence. We filed these charges; they’re solid, and this is a fight worth fighting for.”
Schuette added there’s a statute that allows charges to be filed if someone “makes an act from another state that has a detrimental impact on Michigan.”
Worthy said in a statement Wednesday it is Schuette’s prerogative to file charges in one of the Facebook cases.
“We stand by our decision in that case and we will continue to advocate for needed changes in the applicable statutes,” she said.
University of Detroit-Mercy law professor Larry Dubin said the attorney general doesn’t generally issue charges after a county prosecutor declined to do so.
“I do think it unusual that the attorney general would disagree and bring a prosecution,” Dubin said. “It is my understanding that police officers should not be threatened with harm. However ... Worthy explains that the general nature of the statements made do not seem to constitute the provable elements of the ... crime in question. I would think this prosecution will be an uphill battle to obtain a conviction.”
While it’s unusual for an attorney general to take a case after a county prosecutor declined to bring charges, it does happen sometimes, Cooley School of Law professor Curt Benson said.
Courts have ruled that “true threats” are not protected under the First Amendment. But determining when lawful speech crosses the line and becomes unlawful is difficult, and the definition of a “true threat” is open to interpretation, legal experts say.
Two other Detroit cases involving alleged Facebook threats against cops are pending. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade last week charged Deshawn Lanton, 21, with using the internet to threaten the lives of law enforcement.
The federal charge came after Lanton allegedly threatened on Facebook to blow up a church during the funeral of slain Detroit police officer Kenneth Steil. “Maybe I should drop a bomb on that building to get rid of the rest of y’all,” Lanton allegedly wrote.
Another case, in which a man allegedly threatened a Detroit police officer beneath a Facebook video lauding the cop for bringing school supplies to children, is still under investigation, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Craig cited several incidents in the past two days in which cops nationwide were threatened or shot at. He said he takes threats against cops seriously.
“Threatening the life of a police officer is a threat against our entire community,” he said. “This is a good day in the sense that this threat’s being taken seriously. We have to support our police officers.”
After Wednesday’s press conference, Detroit Police Officers Association president Mark Diaz praised Schuette’s decision.
“On behalf of the law enforcement community, we’re thankful for the attorney general’s leadership, after the Wayne County prosecutor absolutely failed,” he said.