Man Tired of Being Single – Makes Terrorist Threats While Visiting Utah

A Colorado man visiting Utah was tired of being single and used social media to make terrorist threats against girls.

Loveless and lawless

Terrorist threats

Photo by: Pietro Zanarini

27 year old Christopher Wayne Cleary of Denver, Colorado was visiting Provo, Utah when he posted on Facebook his woes regarding his lack of a romantic life. In the midst of his personal oversharing, he also made terrorist threats against girls by threatening to cause a mass shooting and kill “as many girls as I see.” Alert members of the online community contacted Denver police who then tracked Cleary down to his location in Provo. Officers in police were able to apprehend Cleary peacefully where he was then questioned before being booked into the Utah County jail for making the terrorist threats.

Making terrorist threats

Cleary is facing charges of a probation violation as well as felony charges for making terrorist threats. Utah Code 76-5-107.3 states “A person commits [terrorist threats] if the person threatens to commit any offense involving bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, and:

• Threatens the use of a weapon of mass destruction . . . ; or
• Threatens the use of a hoax weapon of mass destruction . . . ; [both second degree felonies] or
• Acts with intent to:
o Intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government [a second degree felony];
o Prevent or interrupt the occupation of a building or a portion of the building, a place to which the public has access, or a facility or vehicle of public transportation operated by a common carrier [a third degree felony] ; or
o Cause an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies to take action due to the person’s conduct posing a serious and substantial risk to the general public [a class B misdemeanor].”

That section goes on to note that “A threat under this section may be express[ed] or implied.”

Social media oversharing

Law enforcement officers did not report finding any weapons on Cleary and when they found him he was merely sitting at a McDonalds, not taking actions to carry out his threat. Cleary was compliant with police and when asked, he didn’t deny making the terrorist threats. According to Cleary, he posted the threat on Facebook when he was distraught and quickly took it down following the backlash from other Facebook users. While it may be seen as awkward and even inappropriate, many social media users use their posting rights to “vent” when they are upset. Some may overshare by openly saying what is on their mind. Others might participate in “Vague-booking” or posting vague comments to get the attention of someone specific or anyone who will ask follow-up questions. However they go about it, often these “venting” posts are taking down once the person has calmed down and realized they have probably posted a little bit too much personal information for every single one of the Facebook friends to see.

Crossing the criminal line

While the awkward venting posts may not result in much more than embarrassment, using the social media resource to threaten harm on a single individual or a group of people can quickly lead to criminal charges even if the person never had any intention of carrying out their threat. Utah Code 76-5-107.3 defined above warns that “it is not a defense . . . that the person did not attempt to carry out or was incapable of carrying out the threat.” Anyone using their accounts for venting are warned to always keep their posts within legal boundaries. Those facing criminal charges for comments or posts they made to any social media accounts including terrorist threats are encouraged to immediately seek legal counsel from a reputable attorney.

Criminal Defamation Through Social Media Comments

Many individuals are more open to share their opinions when it is done through social media posts or comments, yet is there a point when their views could be seen as defamation of character?

Immediate judging by the public

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In a court of law, someone is innocent until proven guilty. When it comes to social media however, people are often figuratively burned at the stake the second they are accused of a crime. It doesn’t help that local news sources appear quick to run stories online the second they catch wind of a crime, especially one that is likely to result in a lot of judgmental chatter. Even if court proceedings exonerate a defendant, the sting of being deemed a criminal in the social media limelight is slow to heal. Things said either vocally or by the written word can damage the public outlook on that person with the ability to ruin their reputation forever, regardless of whether or not the comments are true.

Newsworthy?

Social media witch hunts often occur when an arrest is reported, yet they can also happen when any story of interest hits social media news feeds. Recently a local high school football coach in southern Utah was relieved of his duties while school officials assured everyone he was not being disciplined for anything and would continue teaching classes. Despite the school’s attempt to limit possible rumors that would fan the fire for slanderous comments, a twist on the story from multiple news stations quickly threw the story out to the allegorical wolves.

Opinions or fabricated facts

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Within a short amount of time of the story hitting social media, hundreds of comments from the public followed on the public post. Some of these comments were speculations onto the reasons for the loss of the coach’s position, while others made blatant attacks on the coach’s character, making claims that were severe in nature and could possibly alter the way other’s regarded him. One individual claimed the coach “tortured” her family, which is possibly an exaggeration from an offended parent whose kid sat on the bench, not an actual claim of physical assault. That comment had the potential to cause others to be concerned about the possibility of the coach being violent towards his students and therefore could be seen as defamation.

Freedom of speech or criminal defamation?

According to Utah law, there is a fine line between stating opinions and spreading false information. When someone crosses that line and spreads rumors that could hurt another person, they may end up facing criminal charges for defamation. Utah Code 76-9-404 states, “A person is guilty of criminal defamation if he knowingly communicates to any person orally or in writing any information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” Section 76-9-404 goes on to warn the public that “[c]riminal defamation is a class B misdemeanor.” According to Utah State Courts, if someone is convicted of criminal defamation, they may face “[u]p to six months in jail” as well as a fine “up to $1,000”. Defamation may also be prone to result in civil charges as well as criminal.

Nothing but the truth

If a person makes a statement about another that has the potential to greatly damage that individual’s reputation, they had better be sure what they are saying or writing is true. In fact, the truth is the best defense in cases of criminal defamation. For more information on criminal defamation or other offenses against public order and decency, contact a criminal defense attorney.

How Social Media Can Negatively Affect a Jury Ruling

Active jurors in highly publicized cases are told not to discuss court matters with others or watch, listen, or read any news or social media coverage regarding the trial because these can negatively affect the jury ruling.

Simpler times

Photo by: Justin Grimes

In previous years, avoiding media coverage of a high profile case was easier. Turning off the radio or television during the news hours and refraining from reading the main page of a newspaper was usually enough to help jurors keep their opinions based solely on court approved testimony and evidence. Jurors were not accustomed to having a constant stream of information at the fingertips any time of day.

Bombardment of the media

Nowadays, news sources are available 24/7 on television while also having a large presence on social media. These immediate sources of news are available instantly to anyone with a smart phone or access to a computer. These sources may be read by millions, yet may contain speculative information written to gain attention or ruffle feathers, not to spread truth and justice.

Opinion rant

Photo by: Bernard Spragg. NZ

Beyond what is posted by news sources is the ever-growing oversharing of public opinions. These rants are usually shared on private social media accounts and are viewable to anyone on the news feed of all their followers, whether the opinion is sought after or not. Avoiding these blatant posts would require a person to avoid checking their social media, which may be impossible for some to do.

Twitter in the courtroom

Many jurors continue to use social media during a trial while others have gone as far as to post live tweets during the court proceedings. This can result in a mistrial and loss of time and money for those working on the case.

• In the July 2014 case of a foster father accused of murder and child abuse, a juror was found to have tweeted opinions about the case and his disdain of jury duty starting before he was even selected to serve on the jury.

• A New York juror during a 2015 robbery trial was fine $1,000 after her constant postings on social media caused the case to go to mistrial.

• In June 2017, the jury foreman for an attempted murder case in Pennsylvania caused it to be declared a mistrial after the jury foreman continually posted updates on Facebook which were then flooded with heated comments of debate.

Isolated or fined

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In an attempt to keep juror’s away from social media and their views during a trial private and untarnished, some cases require juror’s to be sequestered from the world for a time. This can include housing them away from home and family while confiscating cell phones and laptops. Those that find their way around these barricades may end up removed from jury duty while some also face hefty fines or even jail time. Those that follow the rules but are tired of being isolated may not take the necessary time needed to properly deliberate a case. The jury members’ growing feelings of homesickness and isolation could cause them to do whatever possible to ensure they home sooner.

Social media’s negative effect on trials

Social media has been shown to have an increasingly negative effect on jury trials, whether through jurors misuse of social media or through their desire to return to it. According to Utah Courts, “American citizens have the right to a fair trial and jurors ensure this right is upheld. “ Defendants that feel their case may have been unfairly judged due to outside influences on jurors or through sequestering causing jurors to come to a verdict prematurely should consult with their attorney regarding how to proceed.