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Judge to weigh info on man who threatened cops online

George Hunter
The Detroit News

A Wayne County judge said Wednesday she wants more information before ruling on a motion to throw out a case against a Detroit man who allegedly posted “kill all white cops” and other anti-police rhetoric on Facebook.

At issue is whether Ford Rouge Plant employee Nheru Littleton’s posts last year constitute a threat, or if it’s free speech protected by the First Amendment.

State prosecutors argued Wednesday it doesn’t matter whether Littleton intended to actually carry out any alleged threats, because his posts caused police to feel threatened. An American Civil Liberties Union attorney arguing on Littleton’s behalf insisted Wednesday the African American defendant was “traumatized” after seeing multiple news reports about police officers fatally shooting black citizens, and that the alleged Facebook posts were his way of “lashing out” against the perceived injustice.

Littleton, 40, is charged with making a terroristic threat and using a computer to commit a crime, both 20-year felonies. He was one of four Detroit residents arrested in July after allegedly posting the statements 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, Prosecutor Kym Worthy declined to charge the trio because she said their alleged posts weren’t crimes.

But two months later, Michigan 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 Wednesday’s hearing, Littleton’s attorney Leon Weiss called the posts “hyperbole.”

“The statements he made, however offensive, or ill-advised, or just plain stupid, do not constitute a true threat,” Weiss said. “There was never any specific police department or individuals who were named.”

Wayne Circuit Judge Vonda Evans said Wednesday under Michigan law, it’s immaterial whether Littleton intended to carry out a threat.

“The standard is whether any reasonable person would feel threatened,” Evans said, adding there have been several recent instances of violence against police which would cause officers to be alarmed over posts like Littleton’s.

The ACLU of Michigan filed a brief in support of Weiss’ motion. Evans said she would rule on the motion March 14, after she reviews case law. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys attached to their filings previous rulings involving similar cases nationwide, but Evans said none of them addresses whether social media is legally considered to be a public forum, which she said “is a different analysis when you’re talking about protected speech.”

ACLU attorney Daniel Korobkin argued Wednesday Littleton was merely “venting” when he posted Facebook messages.

“If there’s one thing that distinguishes a free society from a police state, it’s the ability to sometimes offensively condemn the police in the harshest manner without risking arrest and prosecution,” he said.

“We have to think about what was going on last summer in this country ... we were collectively traumatized by act after act after act of police brutality,” Korobkin said. “They were often captured on camera, broadcast on television. I will never be able to truly understand what it must feel like for a young black man to see that happening in this country; to hear about death after death.

“That’s the real-life context for the rage, the frustration, the anger that someone like Mr. Littleton has,” Korobkin said. “ He didn’t lash out with acts; he lashed out with speech.”

Evans said Wednesday 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!!!!”

The judge said Wednesday: ““(Police) are a group of people who want to go to work and come home alive. As lawyers, we worry about where we’re going to eat; it’s never a consideration will I leave my shift alive. And faced with that, when you have people who have been targeted; and when you have your client, who attached the Dallas video of the shooting of the police, it’s not only inflammatory, it’s dangerous.”

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.

Evans said under Michigan law, it’s immaterial whether someone intended to carry out a threat. “The standard is whether a reasonable person would believe they were being threatened,” she said.

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.

Assistant Attorney General Richard Cunningham agreed. “The basis of a true threat is putting another person in fear, whether you intend to do it or not,” he said. “I will concede that he did not intend to (kill police officers), but he sure intended to place people in fear. When you see a post that says ‘I’m a killing machine,’ and he posts this ‘kill white cops’ message several times, it’s clear he wanted to put people in fear.

“’Kill white police officers’ was a true threat,” Cunningham said. “It did cause the fear he intended to cause. This is not protected speech. All he needs is an intent to place them in fear; that’s the harm this statute addresses. The killing machine who posts about killing white police officers is not protected by the Constitution.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN