No charges month after anti-police postings on Facebook

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit police say they’re “furious” Wayne County prosecutors have not charged four men more than a month after they were arrested for allegedly threatening police officers on Facebook.

But prosecutors said they expect to announce next week whether they’ll charge two of the men, adding the two other cases require more police investigation.

Police arrested the four African-American Detroit residents in early July in separate incidents, after they allegedly posted threats that included: “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter. Kill all white cops,” and “It’s time to wage war and shoot the police first.”

The men were arrested on outstanding traffic warrants and later released. Police on July 11 submitted warrant requests to prosecutors seeking charges of using a computer to make threats, a two-year felony.

“Two of the cases are going to be returned because there is further investigation that is being requested,” Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said in an email. “A decision is expected on the two other cases next week.”

Detroit Police Officers Association President Mark Diaz said he is “disgusted” that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has yet to charge the four men.

“It’s absolutely despicable that Kym Worthy is sitting on these warrants, and it’s very telling of her opinion of police officers,” Diaz said. “We are furious about this. We have officers out there protecting citizens; cops are being killed across the country; some (expletives) say they want to kill cops, and she sits on the warrants for a whole month?

“What kind of message is our prosecutor sending by waiting so long to charge these guys? I know what message I’m getting from it: People can make all the threats they want, and Kym Worthy won’t do anything about it.”

Police Chief James Craig said officers ask him daily about the status of the warrant requests.

“Not a day goes by where I don’t get asked what’s happening with the case; I just talked about it at roll call (Wednesday) morning,” he said. “Police officers are not happy about the lack of movement in the case, and I’m not happy.

“We’re in an environment where threats against police officers have become reality,” Craig said. “Police killings are up 79 percent this year. This is serious, and these threats are to be taken seriously.”

Diaz said police met recently with Eastern District U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade to discuss how to possibly file federal charges against people making threats against cops on Facebook, “since we in the law enforcement community have zero confidence in Kym Worthy’s willingness to address these terrorist threats against our protectors.”

McQuade replied in a written statement: “Prosecutors and investigators met to discuss the legal standards under state and federal law regarding the prosecution of threats. We want to uphold First Amendment rights and prosecute cases that cross the line into criminal behavior.

“While not every hateful expression amounts to a true threat under the law, we take seriously all expressions of intent to commit acts of violence, and we will do all that we can to protect police officers or any group or individual from harm,” she said.

The four Detroit arrests came days after the July 7 killings of five Dallas officers by a sniper during a protest march. The man blamed for the killings and injuries to seven others, African-American former U.S. Army soldier Mikah Xavier Johnson, reportedly told police he wanted to kill as many white cops as possible.

Since then, 14 officers have been killed in the line of duty nationwide, nine of whom were shot, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police killings. So far this year, the website lists 34 police officers killed in the line of duty, up from 19 during the same period in 2015.

The slayings of police officers followed controversial officer-involved killings of African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Segments of the incidents were captured on videotape, leading to protests nationwide, including in Dallas, where officers were killed during a downtown rally. The victims included Redford Township native and former Wayne County Sheriffs Deputy Michael Krol.

Ten days after the Dallas shootings, three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — the same city where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed by police July 5 in a videotaped incident. The alleged shooter, former U.S. Marine Gavin Long, referenced the killing on a YouTube video in which he ranted against “crackers.”

Amid the current volatile environment, police and prosecutors say they’re taking threats against cops seriously. In the past month, prosecutors across the country, including Michigan, have charged people for allegedly making threats against officers on social media. The charges have ranged from using a computer to make threats to terrorism.

Michigan State Police troopers on July 18 arrested 33-year-old Billy R. Thompson in Saginaw after he allegedly wrote on Facebook: “Let's get these cops. It’s hunting on all you pigs in the injustice system. Let’s murder them like they murder us. It’s long past time for revolutionary action. Everyone strap up!” Thompson, who is the nephew of recently-retired district judge M.T. Thompson Jr., was charged with using a computer to commit a crime. His preliminary examination is scheduled for Aug. 16.

Prosecutors in Norwalk, Connecticut; Racine, Wisconsin; Illinois; New Hartford, New York; and Dallas are among those who have charged people in recent weeks for making social media threats against cops.

Days after the Detroit arrests, the FBI Detroit Field Office put out a press release stressing the difference between free speech and threats:

“Free speech ... cannot be misconstrued to include directed threats toward another individual, group, or location,” the release said. “Once threatening speech is directed toward a specific person; a group of people, including law enforcement agencies or ethnic communities; or specific locations in a community; it can be viewed as a credible threat. Individuals who communicate threats may be subject to prosecution.”

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.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN