Nothing Funny about Clowns Who Make Violent Threats toward Schools

Clowns can either be frightening or humorous but most everyone agrees there is nothing funny about them when violent threats toward schools are made. As disturbing as it may be, are any laws actually being broken?

Common fear

violent threats by clowns

Photo by: taymtaym

Being afraid of clowns is a very common fear, with numerous kids and adults sharing a mutual apprehension about the wigged entertainers with painted faces and tricks up their sleeves. The term for this phobia is Coulrophobia, meaning an abnormal fear of clowns. Several horror-based books and movies play on this phobia as well as many haunted houses which just so happen to be increasing in popularity this time of year. Although many people poke fun or crack jokes regarding this fear of clowns, it stops being comical for everyone when the public actually fears for their safety.

The clown epidemic

In August, there were reports of a clown who was trying to lure children into a wooded area near an apartment complex in Greenville, South Carolina. Following this incident, other disturbing clown sightings started popping up around the nation, including here in Utah in cities from Ogden down to St. George. Most instances are nothing more than clowns in abnormal locations or settings who stare at people creepily, making bystanders nervous. Other instances however have taken it too far by making violent threats directed toward Utah schools.

Violent threats lead to school lock downs

So far none of the violent threats to schools have turned into any dangerous situations. Regardless however, schools and law enforcement have to follow certain protocols in the event of violent threats toward the kids at school. Part of this protocol involves putting the threatened schools on lock down. This causes undue stress for the teachers, students, and parents. It can also end in criminal charges for those clowns involved.

Clown crimes

Photo by: William Gray

Photo by: William Gray

While many clown acts can appear so corny a person might wish they were outlawed, there is nothing wrong or illegal with dressing like a circus performer. Seeing a random clown on the street may seem bizarre if it is not yet Halloween or the person isn’t headed to a child’s birthday party, but there isn’t anything illegal about the person simply dressing “differently”. As long as the person isn’t breaking any laws, they are free to dress in whatever clothes they desire with their face painted as colorful as they wish. If a clown decides to chase children or make violent threats towards a school, that is a different story. Those actions will result in criminal charges such as:

Disorderly conduct. A person dressed up as a clown is allowed to stand or walk along a street just as any other resident is but if they chase after kids they can be arrested for disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor. In this regards, disorderly conduct is defined by Utah Code 76-9-102 as “intending to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, ( . . . ) the person: engages in ( . . . ) threatening behavior.” Kids or adults with or without a clown phobia would most likely feel threatened if they were randomly chased by a scary clown.

Stalking. If a clown chooses to target a person by repeatedly either following them, showing up at their home or work, or otherwise as Utah Code 76-5-106.5 states: “intentionally or knowingly engag[ing] in a course of conduct directed a specific person and knows or should know that the course of conduct would cause a reasonable person: to fear for the person’s own safety ( . . . ) or to suffer other emotional duress”, they can be arrested for stalking, a class A misdemeanor.

Making violent threats. One of the most disturbing things being done by these creepy clowns is the numerous violent threats towards schools across the country. Many of these threats to schools are being made anonymously through social media which thanks to the internet is quickly spreads to students, teachers, and parents, causing widespread panic as well as using up valuable law enforcement resources. Utah Code 76-5-107 warns that if a person “commits a threat of violence [by] the person threaten[ing] to commit any offense involving bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, ( . . . ), it is a class B misdemeanor” whether or not the threat was expressed or implied. If that person or clown makes a threat of using a weapon of mass destruction, that can be seen as a terrorist threat.

Dangerous for all involved

Photo by: Steven Sanchez

Photo by: Steven Sanchez

While some may see these clown pranks as amusing, it is causing residents to fear for their safety while possibly increasing the danger for those dressed as clowns. The public has already expressed a desire to use force against any clown that makes them feel threatened. With a large majority of the Utah population having concealed carry permits, this may prove a danger for all clowns on Utah streets. The clown pranksters are encouraged for their own safety to refrain from further threatening behavior or plan on seeking legal counsel if caught.

Mental Health Issues and Criminal Behavior

As the link between mental health issues and criminal behavior is being researched, disorders such as depression and schizophrenia that were previously taboo to speak about are finally being seen and discussed as actual medical conditions needing attention and treatment.

An empty threat

Photo by: Thomanication

Photo by: Thomanication

On Monday, 35 year old Eagle Mountain resident Christopher Dewitt Craig drove to his 9 year old daughter’s elementary school and demanded the school be evacuated; afterwards telling police there were explosives in his vehicle. Following a delivery of an unknown message to police, Craig was arrested without incident and was booked on charges including: making terrorist threats; disrupting operations of a school; and disorderly conduct. His arrest and bail of $25,000 stands even though authorities didn’t discover a single trace of explosives or any weapons on Craig’s person, in his vehicle, or even at his home.

Downward spiral

Contrary to a public outcry of a suspect making a terrorist threat on an elementary school, the community along with those who know Craig personally are calling the incident sad and tragic; a life that spiraled out of control due to mental health issues. Before plunging into criminal and irrational behavior, Craig had a promising career in basketball; both as a player and then as a coach. He was a star basketball player in the 90’s during his high school years at Horizon High School in Phoenix Arizona, later playing for the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). His path then changed from player to coach after he landed a job as the very young head coach for Utah State University Eastern. After two other coaching positions with the last being at Midland College in Texas, Craig left while suffering with mental health issues including schizophrenia. His life quickly went downhill as he struggled with drugs and extremist thinking. He is now facing the possibility of 15 years or more in prison.

Mental health issues and criminal behavior

Mental Health Issues

Photo by: Alachua County

Having an illness such as schizophrenia does not make a person a violent or dangerous criminal. More often than not, those suffering from untreated mental health issues will do nothing more than struggle privately and isolate themselves, withdrawing from family and friends. Very few sufferers get the medical help they need as they do not speak openly about their struggles. Some choose to end their misery with suicide; other may attempt to numb the pain with substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), “Individuals with overt, mild, or even subclinical mental disorders may abuse drugs as a form of self-medication.” NIH also stated that “Patients with schizophrenia have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse than the general population.” Many mental health issues make it difficult to make healthy, everyday choices. Substance abuse can further hinder a person’s ability to think clearly and act accordingly. Mix the two together along with decreased support of loved ones and you have a recipe for disaster that can lead to criminal behavior.


With mental health issues and/or substance abuse, early detection and treatment is key for preventing lives from being turned upside down such as what has happened with Christopher Craig. Fortunately, there are resources available to help those who are struggling with mental illness or drugs; one of those is SAMHSA. According to their website, “The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.” They state: “SAMHSA Strategic Initiatives help provide treatment and services for people with mental and substance use disorders, support the families of people with mental and substance use disorders, build strong and supportive communities, prevent costly behavioral health problems, and promote better health for all Americans.” For anyone who is or who knows someone who is struggling mentally or with substance abuse, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. For more information contact the Department of Health in your area. If legal help is needed for criminal charges, contact an experienced defense attorney.

Legalized Marijuana is Taxable Marijuana

As neighboring states change their restrictions on marijuana by permitting all uses of the plant, the financial payback of legalized marijuana is becoming apparent as the decriminalized “drug” is now taxable. With medical and now financial benefits recognized, why does marijuana continue to be prohibited in states such as Utah and why was it outlawed in the first place?

Criminalization of “marihuana”

Photo by: Christian Frausto Bernal

Photo by: Christian Frausto Bernal

By the early 1930’s several states had criminalized marijuana due to racial prejudices against Mexico. In 1937 the U.S. as a nation jumped on board outlawing marijuana starting with the Marihuana Tax Act. Although racial prejudice was likely still an issue (note the Mexican spelling “marihuana” was used) it was said to be outlawed nationally for fear that it made people crazy and violent. In the last 80 years it has been determined that deranged tendencies are possible with or without the use of marijuana, yet marijuana use continues to be illegal in many states.

Slow progress for legalized marijuana

Currently, only four states including the nation’s capital permit recreational use of marijuana with 20 more states allowing full use of the plant for medical use only. Other states have either lessened their possession laws or now allow medical use of cannabis extracts as long as they are free of the psychoactive ingredients of the plant. Those remaining states that are hesitant to legalize any marijuana use include Utah where simple possession of marijuana can come with a 6 month stint in jail.

Health risks?

Photo by: ashton

Photo by: ashton

The main excuse used by states for keeping marijuana illegal is because of the temporary high that users can experience from THC, the plant’s psychoactive ingredient. This high can result in:

• Sluggish coordination
• Memory difficulty
• Red eyes
• Elevated heart rate
• Dry mouth
• An increased need to snack

All these effects typically dissipate within a few hours of “getting high”. There are also a few concerns of possible long term health risks associated with marijuana use including:

• Long term cognitive impairment (only when used by teenagers)
• Lung irritations or infections (Similar with inhaling any type of smoke)
• Potential dependency (as with any “feel-good” substance- alcohol and chocolate included)

Health benefits

Contrary to the small handful of health risks, marijuana an array of proven benefits for those suffering with medical conditions such as:

• Seizures and epilepsy
• MS
• Cancer
• HIV and AIDS
• Glaucoma
• Wasting syndrome

Decreased health risks and increased health benefits haven’t been enough to encourage all states to legalize marijuana so far, but what about the possibility for financial gain?

Tobacco and alcohol tax

Photo by:

Photo by:

Tobacco and alcohol are both substances that are known to be harmful and extremely addictive yet are 100% lawful once a person reaches a designated age. One of the main reasons for leniency towards tobacco and alcohol is likely due to the tax revenue they generate. Tobacco products such as cigarettes have an average tax of $1 dollar per pack, resulting in millions of dollars going into each state’s pockets annually. Alcohol taxes also contribute to every state in the sum of additional millions each year. With money in hand, many states including Utah throw a small percentage of the money generated at education and prevention of tobacco and alcohol use yet actually turn a blind eye on the health risks by keeping them legal. When will they do the same for marijuana which has far fewer complications?

Marijuana tax

States that have legalized marijuana have imposed taxes on it, and are already reaping the financial benefits.

• Colorado alone collecting over $130 million in taxes in 2015 from the nearly $1 billion dollars’ worth of marijuana sold.

• Oregon made $3.5 million on marijuana taxes in one month alone.

• Washington State is projected to make nearly $350 million on marijuana taxes annually by 2018.

Utah and other states that continue to criminalize marijuana are not only missing out on a massive taxable opportunity, they are losing money by arresting, prosecuting, and jailing those arrested for simple marijuana charges.

Until then…

Legalized Marijuana

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Money speaks loudly, and it is just a matter of time before the cost of housing inmates for pot charges along with the possible tax revenue from legalized marijuana calls to Utah loud enough for the state’s marijuana laws to be lifted entirely. Until then, small changes are hopefully on the horizon to lessen penalties for simple possession and remove the restrictions for medical marijuana use.