The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a stay in the trial of a man accused of threatening Detroit police officers on Facebook.
Nheru Littleton was charged with making a terroristic threat and using a computer to commit a crime, both 20-year felonies, after allegedly posting “kill all white cops” and other anti-police rhetoric on Facebook in July. His trial was scheduled to begin June 5.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office brought charges against Littleton after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy declined to charge him because she said no crime was committed.
Daniel Korobkin, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is helping defend Littleton, claimed during a February hearing in Wayne Circuit Court the African-American defendant was “traumatized” after seeing multiple news reports about police officers fatally shooting black citizens and the alleged Facebook posts were his way of “lashing out” against the perceived injustice.
The ACLU on May 26 filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court. The court said Wednesday it would consider the motion, adding: “We order that the previously scheduled trial not occur until the completion of this appeal.”
The attorney general’s office has 28 days to answer the appeal application. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office did not reply Thursday to a request for comment.
Korobkin wrote in a brief the case “raises serious First Amendment concerns because the defendant is being criminally prosecuted for pure speech. To be clear, Mr. Littleton’s speech was shocking and wrong. But ... it does not fall within the ‘true threats’ category of unprotected speech and therefore cannot form the basis of a criminal prosecution.”
Littleton in was one of four Detroit residents arrested in July after allegedly posting anti-cop rhetoric on social media. Littleton allegedly composed his messages July 9 from the Waldorf-Astoria's El Conquistador resort in Puerto Rico.
Police submitted warrants to Wayne County prosecutors seeking charges against three of the men, including Littleton; detectives determined there wasn't enough evidence to seek charges against the fourth suspect. In the separate cases, Worthy declined to charge the trio because she said their alleged posts weren't crimes.
But two months later, Attorney General Bill Schuette announced he was bringing terrorism charges against Littleton.
Littleton allegedly wrote: “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 allegedly wrote.
During the February court hearing, Littleton's attorney, Leon Weiss, called the posts “hyperbole,” adding: “The statements he made, however offensive, or ill-advised, or just plain stupid, do not constitute a true threat. There was never any specific police department or individuals who were named."
Wayne Circuit Judge Vonda Evans said under Michigan law, it's immaterial whether Littleton intended to carry out a threat.
“The standard is whether any reasonable person would feel threatened,” said Evans, adding there have been several recent instances of violence against police that would cause officers to be alarmed over posts like Littleton's.
Korobkin argued during the hearing Littleton was merely “venting” when he posted Facebook messages.
Evans replied it's important to consider the context of Littleton's messages, which were posted hours after five Dallas police officers were gunned down by a sniper during a protest against police-involved shootings. Littleton attached a news video of the police shooting to his post, which also stated: “All lives can't matter until Black Lives Matter!!!! Kill all white cops!!!!”
Also important, Evans said, is Littleton's Facebook profile, in which he described himself as a "former killing machine and Marine recruit." She said that, along with the fact that Littleton had a concealed pistol license, would cause any "reasonable person" to feel alarmed.
After Detroit police learned of the Facebook posts, officials sent out department-wide memos warning officers to be careful, which Evans said shows they felt threatened by the messages.