Michigan court: Call to UP police was a terrorist threat

Ed White
Associated Press

Detroit — The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of a man who was charged under an anti-terrorism law when he called a sheriff’s office and said it was going to be “hashtag Las Vegas” if he didn’t get money for a workplace injury, just days after that city experienced the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

One member of the three-judge panel wrote a lengthy dissent, however, arguing that the charge against Wilson Byczek wasn’t what the Legislature intended when it passed an anti-terrorism law in response to the 9/11 attacks nearly 20 years ago.

“It puts us one step closer to authorizing our government to punish dissenters as ‘terrorists,’ something that I am unwilling to do,” Judge Mark Boonstra said Thursday.

The case centered on a call Byczek, now 40, made to the Iron County sheriff’s office in the Upper Peninsula in 2017. He had been seriously injured on an excavation job and wanted the police report for a lawsuit against a local resort.

Byczek indicated “that if he did not get the money owed to him he was going to return to Michigan and ‘take care of it himself, and that it was going to be hashtag Las Vegas,’” the appeals court wrote in a summary of the case.

The call occurred just days after 58 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Byczek told the FBI that he was upset and careless with his words. A search turned up no weapons or evidence of imminent danger.

An Iron County jury convicted Byczek of making a terrorist threat and the malicious use of a phone. He was sentenced to at least seven years in prison. On appeal, he argued there was insufficient evidence to show that “hashtag Las Vegas” could be tied to terrorism.

But appeals court Judge Jonathan Tukel, a former terrorism prosecutor at the U.S. Justice Department, and Judge Michael Gadola disagreed.

“It is not unreasonable to conclude that the intent of the act would be to intimidate or to coerce” the Lac O’Seasons Resort or local police, the judges said.

In his dissent, Boonstra suggested that extortion might have been a more appropriate charge.

“The term ‘terrorist’ has a unique meaning. It’s a special kind of criminality. It requires something more. A ‘plus’ factor. Call it, perhaps, ‘criminality plus,’” he said.