State AG’s office probes threats against Detroit police

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The Michigan Attorney General’s office is reviewing three alleged Facebook threats against Detroit police officers, after Wayne County prosecutors declined last month to charge the men accused of writing the posts.

After Kym Worthy denied the requests, Police Chief James Craig said he met with Attorney General Bill Schuette to ask for a separate investigation.

“He’s agreed to evaluate the cases,” Craig said.

Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely confirmed the state investigation.

Police are seeking felony charges against the three men, Craig said, although he added it was unclear which statute was being considered. Bitely would not comment on which charges were under consideration.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said Wednesday: “Since the Facebook cases are state cases the Attorney General’s Office is an appropriate law enforcement agency to take another look at them.”

Detroit police in July submitted warrant requests to prosecutors seeking felony charges against four men who allegedly posted threats that included “Kill all white cops,” and “It’s time to wage war and shoot the police first.”

Police arrested a fifth man in August and sought charges after he allegedly threatened to “kill that pig” in a Facebook thread lauding a Detroit cop for delivering school supplies to children.

Worthy announced Aug. 30 she would not charge three of the men arrested in July, in part because she said police had conducted a “substandard” investigation, including failing to read two suspects their Miranda rights. A third man was in Puerto Rico when he admitted to posting the inflammatory message, and Worthy said she couldn’t charge him because he was not in the county when the alleged crime occurred.

The other two warrant requests were sent back to police for further investigation, Miller said. Police requested all five suspects be charged with using a computer to make threats, a two-year felony.

The issue of social media threats against cops and whether they are crimes or First Amendment-protected free speech is being debated amid simmering tensions between some citizens and police. Highly publicized videotaped incidents in which officers killed African-Americans have stoked anger, as has a recent spate of police officers being killed, including Detroit Sgt. Ken Steil, who died Saturday.

Courts have ruled “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.

Prosecutors in several states, including Michigan, in recent weeks have brought charges against people for allegedly threatening officers on social media. The charges have ranged from using a computer to make threats to terrorism.

Among recent arrests: Saginaw resident Billy R. Thompson, 33, who 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.

Thompson is in jail awaiting a psychiatric examination.

Worthy’s decision to not bring charges against the three suspects was criticized by many police officers, although she insisted when announcing her ruling: “The police are trained to know when they must give Miranda rights, and they are aware that a viable case is not possible with Miranda violations and no other evidence.

She continued: “We must be able to prove our cases lawfully.”

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