Detroit police urge charges in Facebook threat case
Detroit police officials say Wayne County prosecutors are deviating from normal procedure as they consider whether to charge a man for allegedly threatening a police officer on Facebook — a claim prosecutors deny.
The 38-year-old Detroit man was arrested last week after he allegedly threatened to “kill that pig” in a Facebook post beneath a video showing an 11th Precinct police officer delivering school supplies to children.
Deputy Chief David LeValley said the suspect is being held on a probation violation warrant as prosecutors decide whether to charge him with using a computer to make threats, a two-year felony.
“We submitted a warrant package to the prosecutor’s office, and they indicated they’d be reviewing it,” LeValley said. “The assistant prosecutor we delivered it to said it would be up to superiors in the office whether they’d file charges.
“That’s unusual. Most of the time, when we take warrants over, the reviewing prosecutor decides whether to bring charges. I don’t know why they’re changing the procedure in this case.”
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said LeValley’s interpretation of the conversation between an assistant prosecutor and the officer in charge of the case was not accurate.
The assistant prosecutor “said that he was going to speak to the lawyers in his section regarding investigation and the law,” she said. “There is nothing unusual about that.”
The disagreement is the latest salvo in a rift between police and prosecutors stemming from last week’s decision by Prosecutor Kym Worthy to not charge three men who allegedly threatened police on Facebook in July. A fourth suspect’s case was sent back to police for further investigation.
In announcing her decision, Worthy said Detroit police conducted a “substandard” investigation. She said officers failed to read two suspects their Miranda rights.
“There were two men who were arrested and taken into custody on traffic warrants,” according to a statement from Worthy to The Detroit News. “The men were in custody and were not free to leave when they were questioned by police officers. The law requires that Miranda warnings must be given in that situation.”
Worthy also said she couldn’t prosecute one of the cases because the 40-year-old suspect was vacationing in Puerto Rico when he posted: “All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter!!!! Kill all white cops!!!!”
“The law requires that the threat must have been made in Wayne County,” Worthy said when she announced her decision. “There is no evidence that establishes that the statements on Facebook were made in Wayne County. We do not have evidence from Facebook, or otherwise, that proves the suspect was in Wayne County at the time the Facebook posts were made.”
Worthy also said an officer told another suspect during questioning he had done nothing illegal.
“During the interview, one of the officers said to the man, ‘This is America. You can say whatever you want. You just have to make sure you say the right thing,’ ” Worthy said in her written statement. “At the end of the interrogation, the officer appeared satisfied that there was no threat and said, ‘I don’t think you are going to be out killing police officers.’ The man replied, ‘No.’ ”
Worthy was criticized in a Sept. 1 letter from the president and director of the Virginia-based National Association of Police Organizations.
“This seems to be just another example of your office not standing up for and defending the police officers who put their lives on the line each day to keep Wayne County’s communities safe,” said the letter, signed by the organization’s president, Michael McHale, and director, William Johnson.
Worthy on Friday responded to the NAPO letter in a written statement, in which she said she has “enormous respect for law abiding, hard working police officers. We work with them every day.”
“Eight very experienced prosecutors in my office looked at the cases and they all arrived at the same conclusion,” she said. “They conferred closely with the officers in charge of the cases. Further investigation from DPD was needed because the investigation was sorely lacking.
“Candidly, we all wanted to find a way to charge the cases, but under the law, we were unable to do so. We struggled with making the investigation public, but, citizens had a right to know that about the lack of venue and the Miranda violations that caused the denials. My charge is to follow the law. That is what prosecutors do.”
Worthy said she plans to establish a protocol for charging cases, which will be sent to Wayne County law enforcement agencies. “This protocol will assist them in the investigatory phase of these very serious cases,” she said.
The NAPO letter points out prosecutors in other jurisdictions have charged people for threatening cops on social media.
“In recent weeks, prosecutors in Norwalk, Connecticut; Racine, Wisconsin; New Hartford, New York; Dallas, Texas; and in other Michigan jurisdictions have charged people for making threats against law enforcement on social media,” the letter said.
A Saginaw man is scheduled to stand trial for allegedly writing 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!”
The man, 33-year-old Billy Thompson, who is the nephew of recently retired district judge M.T. Thompson Jr., was charged with using a computer to commit a crime. He was bound over for trial after waiving his right to a preliminary exam Aug. 16. No court date has been set.
The NAPO letter said threats against cops should be taken seriously, given recent killings of police officers.
“According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, on average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 61 hours,” the letter said.
“Moreover, preliminary data from the (fund) indicates a 52 percent increase in the number of officer firearm-related fatalities from August 2015 to August 2016. The Dallas shooter who killed five police officers and the Baton Rouge shooter who killed three officers both posted threats to law enforcement on social media prior to the attacks,” the letter said.
“In the wake of these killings, it is indefensible that your office would not take these social media threats seriously.”
Worthy said she has reached out to NAPO president McHale, “to speak with him about the three Facebook cases, so he will know our reasons for denying them.”