More Stories Of People Arrested For Making Joke Threats On Social Networks

from the investigate-and-let-it-go dept

Earlier this year. we wrote about a guy in the UK, Paul Chambers, who was arrested after he tweeted a message about blowing up his local airport if it didn’t reopen in time for the flight he had to take the following week. The message was clearly a joke. Now, as I mentioned at the time, I have no problem with the police doing a quick check to make sure it’s really a joke, but that’s as far as it should go. Instead, the police ended up arresting him under the Terrorist Act and eventually charged him with a crime. They did not charge him with making a fake bomb threat (which is a crime) because they knew that such a charge wouldn’t stand up in court. Instead, they charged him with using the internet to send a “message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.” Chambers is back in the news, as he’s now appealing his ridiculous conviction.

If you thought such things only happened in the UK, it turns out you’d be wrong. I was just listening to a recent episode of This American Life, which covered an amazingly similar situation, involving American comic Joe Lipari. After having what can charitably be described as a “bad” Apple store experience, he went home and was watching the movie Fight Club — and got “inspired” by a famous line from the movie, and paraphrased it into a Facebook status reading:

Joe Lipari might walk into an Apple store on 5th Avenue, with an Armalite AR-10 gas-powered semi-automatic weapon and pump round after round into one of those smug, fruity little concierges. This may be someone you’ve known for years. Someone very, very close to you.

It’s a pretty direct paraphrase from the movie. Yet, it took all of about an hour for a bunch of NYC police at his door, carrying machine guns and wearing bullet proof vests.

Just like the case of Chambers in the UK, rather than recognizing that this throwaway social media message, charges were filed against Lipari — and they were pretty serious charges. There were two felony charges — including one for “making terroristic threats.” Rather than dropping it after recognizing this was joke, the case actually started out by going to court — where the ADA even admitted to the judge that they knew Lipari was a comedian and this was a joke intended for his friends… but they still wanted to push forward. Lipari, to his credit, turned down various plea deals, believing that the whole concept of him being arrested and charged with this was ridiculous. The story ends with the ADA finally backing down, and the case is currently likely to be dismissed (though it hasn’t fully been dismissed yet).

The similarities between Chambers’ situation in the UK and Lipari’s situation in the US seem pretty clear — and neither are particularly flattering for law enforcement folks. Yes, obviously we still live in a time where “heightened awareness” to potential threats makes sense. But, at some point (and probably some point really, really early on), it should have become clear in both of these cases, that these were just two guys making stupid jokes via their social networking status tools — and that’s the point at which everything should have been dropped. That both cases went much, much further is a travesty, and suggests that law enforcement is wasting time on things like this, rather than real threats.

On a separate note, if you keep listening to the second story on that same episode of This American Life, it’s yet another depressing tale of really questionable police activity, and how the police didn’t just turn on a guy who tried to fix the system, but literally came up with trumped up charges to get him locked up in a mental institution without telling anyone. Folks in law enforcement talk about the respect that they deserve, but by doing things like this, they show they haven’t earned such respect.

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Comments on “More Stories Of People Arrested For Making Joke Threats On Social Networks”

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58 Comments
John Doe says:

Not sure about this one....

Posting what Joe Lipari did could be compared to yelling fire in a theater. With all the mass shootings and threats of terror these days, it is best not to even joke about such things. How are the police to know what threats are real and which ones are not? Both of these guys failed the IQ test. Should they be charged with felonies? Maybe not, but should they get off after wasting tax payer dollars on fake threats?

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not sure about this one....

“How exactly are the police or anyone else who reads these posts supposed to know it is a movie quote? Even if they figure out it is a quote, how do they know you aren’t serious about doing it?”

They…use…their…brains. Come on, like Mike said, you investigate, figure out what’s happening, and then let it go. What you don’t do is investigate, find out it’s a movie quote rant, acknowledge that fact, have a cup of coffee, and then scream “AAAAAAHHHHHH! TERRORISM INTERNET RAPORIST NUN-FUCKER! CHARGES! WE NEED CHARGES, GOD DAMN IT! PUPPY LICKER CHILDREN CREEPER PORN ATHEIST!”

On a separate note, this is really, REALLY stupid. It’s fear of the internet again. I spent some time on the south side of Chicago, because apparently my life is a real rich freaking oyster, and I can tell you that the most common phrase uttered in that part of town is, “I’m going to kill you.” Everyone says it. I don’t know why. Somebody tells a joke that isn’t funny? “I’m going to kill you”.

If they locked up everyone that said that as though the threat were real, no one would be left to go to White Sox games….

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not sure about this one....

cops are supposed to do this thing called “police work”.

the guy’s identity is pretty easy to determine (he’s somewhat famous, i gather) so why not just pull his criminal record and see what his list of priors are? if he has a history of assault, even one, take him down town and ask him some questions.

if he doesn’t, then just call him or stop by for a chat to get a sense of why he did such a thing. you could send a patrol cop whose beat includes the guy’s neighborhood instead of a detective. cops are supposed to get a sense for what people are up to, you know, part of that whole “police work” thing.

Joe Lipari (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not sure about this one....

First.. Thanks for picking up my nonsensical story and trying to remain unbiased in your reporting.

@Chris: That was one of my arguments in court.. Where was the police work? Not only do I have no prior arrests.. But, I’m a highly decorated disabled veteran of the US Army.

Granted my Facebook status was posted during a lapse in better judgement.. But, I made no real threats. In fact, the word “might”implies the imaginary threat is anything but imminent. Having sworn to defend all of our rights, Free Speech is my favorite and I’ll gladly go down swinging on this one.

I can’t help but notice everyone who has something shitty to say, does so under fake names.. We live in a cowardly society where many people are willing to give up their freedoms for a false sense of security… The fact of the matter is.. If I was going to attack an Apple Store, I wouldn’t announce it on Facebook.. Plus, anyone with half a brain would have at least read the comments under the status. All of which made it clear that it was a joke..

That’s the problem with jokes, sometimes they go horribly wrong.

Frank (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not sure about this one....

policeman Szpak and his supervisor John Doe

Attention: Internal Affairs, NYPD

I am writing to you regarding my complaint number 08-21523 against police officer Szpak from 104th NYPD Precinct of Queens: 64-2 Catalpa Ave., NY 11385. I gave you a full account of what happened to me and now nearly a year has passed and I have not heard from you.

Could I please ask what the status of this matter is, as I do not feel safe after the way I was treated by that officer and by his supervisor at the precinct. I am still afraid of this policeman, as I hear from third parties that he feels vengeful towards me because I made a complaint.

Just to refresh your memory, I will write in short what had transpired, which you already have in your records. Basically, I was turning left at the intersection at the corner of my house and the officer was attempting to turn left from the lane opposite me. I turned left passing his vehicle which was standing dangerously in the lane against traffic. He was waiting for change of lights from red to green at Metropolitan Ave. i 69th St.. I then proceeded into my driveway and when I was already standing in the doorway to my apartment, he appeared in his car in my courtyard, approached me and asked me for my driver’s license. I gave it to him. He went to his car and after a while called me on the loudspeaker to leave the house and get in my car. I chose not to do so, as I was tending to my daughter who was very sick. I then called his supervisor at the precinct and explained the situation and also informed the officer that I had done so. He pulled away with my driver’s license and left. Since he took my driver’s license, I called the precinct to inquire about it and was told by his supervisor that the officer had left for the day and that I should come and retrieve my driver’s license myself. When I got to the precinct, the officer on duty with whom I previously talked on the phone, directed me to the very officer who took my driver’s license, who was changed into plain clothes. During the conversation they took my small video camera which I suppose infuriated policeman Szpak and his supervisor John Doe. I was told I was a terrorist and would be taken into arrest. They were making various sarcastic comments and told me that after arrest I’d be deported. Officer Szpak handcuffed me. There were other policemen there who were entertained by this crude show of power over me. They proceeded to ridicule me and call me a terrorist and said that I would never receive my license back and I will be deported back to the “shitty country” that I came from. I spent 24 hours in jail, after which I was released.

I have the entire scene of the officer’s behavior in my courtyard on video.
At the moment I’m preparing an exhibition of paintings, drawings and photos with which I’d like to honor victims of power abuse./ http://www.coolon.net /

I kindly ask you to get back to me regarding this matter promptly. Thank you very much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not sure about this one....

The police will not be able to know anything they can just sit and wait until someone make something real or they can go in before and get every joker out there and maybe get that one that was not joking.

It is not like screaming fire in a theater, is called frustration venting, take that away and probably more people will snap.

In my opinion the police command are made up by stupid people influenced by stupid politicians that take cues from chicken little.

Yes one in a million of this threats is for real, will we imprison the other 999 thousand for being stupid?

Want to see one that was for real and the police couldn’t do nothing? How about the Discovery channel hold up recently, did the police go after the crazy dude? nope why?

People should be judge by their actions, not cheap talking and that should be the only rule for these things.

You can’t measure intent by talking, you can’t gauge harm by talking, that is why people say talk is cheap because it is meaningless unless you act upon it, the police could have kept an eye on the guy, but to charge him with anything is crossing the line.

Frank (user link) says:

Re: Not sure about this one....

policeman Szpak and his supervisor John Doe

Attention: Internal Affairs, NYPD

I am writing to you regarding my complaint number 08-21523 against police officer Szpak from 104th NYPD Precinct of Queens: 64-2 Catalpa Ave., NY 11385. I gave you a full account of what happened to me and now nearly a year has passed and I have not heard from you.

Could I please ask what the status of this matter is, as I do not feel safe after the way I was treated by that officer and by his supervisor at the precinct. I am still afraid of this policeman, as I hear from third parties that he feels vengeful towards me because I made a complaint.

Just to refresh your memory, I will write in short what had transpired, which you already have in your records. Basically, I was turning left at the intersection at the corner of my house and the officer was attempting to turn left from the lane opposite me. I turned left passing his vehicle which was standing dangerously in the lane against traffic. He was waiting for change of lights from red to green at Metropolitan Ave. i 69th St.. I then proceeded into my driveway and when I was already standing in the doorway to my apartment, he appeared in his car in my courtyard, approached me and asked me for my driver’s license. I gave it to him. He went to his car and after a while called me on the loudspeaker to leave the house and get in my car. I chose not to do so, as I was tending to my daughter who was very sick. I then called his supervisor at the precinct and explained the situation and also informed the officer that I had done so. He pulled away with my driver’s license and left. Since he took my driver’s license, I called the precinct to inquire about it and was told by his supervisor that the officer had left for the day and that I should come and retrieve my driver’s license myself. When I got to the precinct, the officer on duty with whom I previously talked on the phone, directed me to the very officer who took my driver’s license, who was changed into plain clothes. During the conversation they took my small video camera which I suppose infuriated policeman Szpak and his supervisor John Doe. I was told I was a terrorist and would be taken into arrest. They were making various sarcastic comments and told me that after arrest I’d be deported. Officer Szpak handcuffed me. There were other policemen there who were entertained by this crude show of power over me. They proceeded to ridicule me and call me a terrorist and said that I would never receive my license back and I will be deported back to the “shitty country” that I came from. I spent 24 hours in jail, after which I was released.

I have the entire scene of the officer’s behavior in my courtyard on video.
At the moment I’m preparing an exhibition of paintings, drawings and photos with which I’d like to honor victims of power abuse./ http://www.coolon.net /

I kindly ask you to get back to me regarding this matter promptly. Thank you very much.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Terroristic?

Making terroristic threats?
Wow are the law enforcement orgs using the word terror loosely these days. Why do Americans let them get away with using this word to justify all their overreaches of power?

LEO: “Its to prevent terrorism. Its a little device that we install into you that will track everywhere you go, in case you are kidnapped by those dirty terrorists”
Citizen: “Its to prevent terrorists? Oh, OK then, go ahead.”

ChrisB (profile) says:

Where are these police ...

Where are these police when a woman’s abusive ex threatens to kill her? One of the leading causes of death in pregnant women is murder (I think it is third). Around half of murdered women were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. The stalking laws are ridiculous. The same response should be made when a woman is threatened. But to quote from another Fincher movie, “We tolerate it because it’s common”.

/rant

Anonymous Howard, Cowering says:

Not sure about this one....

Posting what Joe Lipari did COULD be compared to a Manet painting. That doesn’t mean it’s a valid, or even particularly good, comparison.

There aren’t that many mass shootings, these or any other days. The few that do happen are played for profit by the news and/or entertainment media (if there’s really a difference any more), and emphasized far beyond their real significance.

How are police to know? Maybe check it out? Post a cruiser near the person’s home, give the home phone a call, suggest he come down to the station to clear things up. If s/he comes out of the house armed to the teeth, the cruiser can call the SWAT in and stay out of sight. If s/he comes down to the station, unarmed and calm, it should be pretty obvious that the perceived threat is not real.

They did not “waste” any tax dollars — it was the conscious choice of the agencies/offices involved to expend the tax dollars.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Not sure about this one....

> How are police to know? Maybe check it out?

I dunno… perhaps by being literate and actually being aware of what’s going on in the culture. This remark was nearly lifted word for word from a movie (and possibly the originating novel). If anything, it should have been mistaken for an act of copyright infringement.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not sure about this one....

“This remark was nearly lifted word for word from a movie (and possibly the originating novel).”

It was from the original novel. One of my favorite books and a great read for anyone who wondered what the practical application of a Marxist revolution might look like. From what I can tell, that was the whole point of that book….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not sure about this one....

Obviously this whole issue is the fault of the companies pushing for stronger copyright laws. Since the quote in this movie is still covered by copyright (and probably will be until after most of us are dead), it hasn’t entered the ‘public domain’ and therefore can’t be part of any law enforcement agencies knowledge base.

If this movie had been in the public domain then obviously law enforcement would have been aware that it was almost a direct quote, but since nothing enters the public domain anymore, we have no shared culture, and law enforcement is shown to be the pathetic little hand puppets that they really are….

No my tinfoil hat isn’t too tight, I like it this way, why do you ask?

Anonymous Coward says:

I certainly hate cases like these. The amount of insane and violent bile I will throw out on my twitter, facebook, at small parties, etc would probably get me shot by the police if they are arresting people for these relatively harmless comments.

All of that communication is meant for friends, friends that know I have a twisted sense of morbid humor. If someone that doesn’t know me well goes “OMG you are nuts!” I’ll calmly explain it’s a harmless form of nuts and not the nuts that would do anything more violent to living things than yard work so my community doesn’t fine me for lowering properly value.

Venting or morbid jokes online do not directly hurt anyone. Concern? Perhaps, so check it out. Seriously, how can ANYONE think making a silly venting comment warrants SWAT!!

Josef says:

Terrorism 101

Terrorism : the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion

Somewhere along the line this word became the magic word to pass any laws or enter any conflict that normal moral people would find distasteful.

WAKE UP! There are terrorists in the world, but 99.9999% of the time they are not tweeting about it or updating their status on Facebook.

Keep in mind that using fear of terrorist attacks to coerce changes in policy,laws, and behavior, meets the definition of terrorism.

Peter B says:

Good Job NYPD

A comedian no one heard of quotes a movie line no one has memorized, threatens to kill people in a NYC landmark and that’s a joke? One of his “Friends” didn’t get it and rats him out. It is such a bad stupid joke he deserves to be arrested, I guess the jokes on him. Prosecuting him is another matter, making him spend the night in Central Booking, priceless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good Job NYPD

Peter B is a dolt. I havnt heard of the comedian but I recognized the quote and it’s been years since Ive seen the movie. Either way, how much police work does it take to see that this guy is a stand up comedian? I mean, youre a cop, youre already looking at the guys facebook page but you still fail to realize that he’s a comedian? Hello…context clues…send him an email or call him, feel him out and within five minutes it would be all cleared up. But what did the ignorant cops do? They wasted more time and money on a non-issue. The officers involved should be reprimanded and publicly apologize to the guy and for their own ignorance. And peter, the joke is on us all, but you fail to see that.

Angryshortguy says:

This guy's just seeking free publicity

The police did the prudent thing when they arrested him.
You make dangerous, threatening comments?
You’re dangerous until proven otherwise.
What should happen is that anyone arrested for posting threats on-line should have to pay for the police resources wasted following up on these idiotic posts.
A threat is a threat. And this one was in writing.

AW says:

A joke between friends is just that…do moron cops not have access to movies or books? I recognized the line immediately. The fact that some of you don’t seem to get that giving up liberty for security means you have neither amazes me. Have you never watched 1984, V for Vendetta, Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, Star Wars, Logan’s Run, Escape from NY/Escape from L.A., Fahrenheit 451, any movie made about WW2, Watership Down, Serenity, Star Trek, 300, Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, The Matrix…If you have seen any of these movies and still feel the same way, you should probably stop breeding because you are a failure at understanding the most simple concepts. Maybe you can join that “Galileo was Wrong” group and paint pictures of Jesus on the back of a Stegosaurus.

Frank (user link) says:

policeman Szpak and his supervisor John Doe

Attention: Internal Affairs, NYPD

I am writing to you regarding my complaint number 08-21523 against police officer Szpak from 104th NYPD Precinct of Queens: 64-2 Catalpa Ave., NY 11385. I gave you a full account of what happened to me and now nearly a year has passed and I have not heard from you.

Could I please ask what the status of this matter is, as I do not feel safe after the way I was treated by that officer and by his supervisor at the precinct. I am still afraid of this policeman, as I hear from third parties that he feels vengeful towards me because I made a complaint.

Just to refresh your memory, I will write in short what had transpired, which you already have in your records. Basically, I was turning left at the intersection at the corner of my house and the officer was attempting to turn left from the lane opposite me. I turned left passing his vehicle which was standing dangerously in the lane against traffic. He was waiting for change of lights from red to green at Metropolitan Ave. i 69th St.. I then proceeded into my driveway and when I was already standing in the doorway to my apartment, he appeared in his car in my courtyard, approached me and asked me for my driver’s license. I gave it to him. He went to his car and after a while called me on the loudspeaker to leave the house and get in my car. I chose not to do so, as I was tending to my daughter who was very sick. I then called his supervisor at the precinct and explained the situation and also informed the officer that I had done so. He pulled away with my driver’s license and left. Since he took my driver’s license, I called the precinct to inquire about it and was told by his supervisor that the officer had left for the day and that I should come and retrieve my driver’s license myself. When I got to the precinct, the officer on duty with whom I previously talked on the phone, directed me to the very officer who took my driver’s license, who was changed into plain clothes. During the conversation they took my small video camera which I suppose infuriated policeman Szpak and his supervisor John Doe. I was told I was a terrorist and would be taken into arrest. They were making various sarcastic comments and told me that after arrest I’d be deported. Officer Szpak handcuffed me. There were other policemen there who were entertained by this crude show of power over me. They proceeded to ridicule me and call me a terrorist and said that I would never receive my license back and I will be deported back to the “shitty country” that I came from. I spent 24 hours in jail, after which I was released.

I have the entire scene of the officer’s behavior in my courtyard on video.

I believe in the very credo of the NYPD to “serve and protect”, however after that particular experience, I feel threatened and unsafe. I repeat I am still afraid of officer Szpak, as well as his supervisor, fearing that my complaint might cause vengeful behavior on their part. One often hears of cases of people’s miserable lot when policemen abuse the power they have.

Was it justified to put me in jail for 24h for filming the police officer’s conduct in the courtyard of a house on private property?
At the moment I’m preparing an exhibition of paintings, drawings and photos with which I’d like to honor victims of power abuse./ http://www.coolon.net /

I kindly ask you to get back to me regarding this matter promptly. Thank you very much.

Respectfully yours,

George Bush says:

So this is what the Government’s resorted to eh? Arresting people via FB quotes… WOW!!! No wonder we’re in a recession. Everyone is SOOOOO paranoid about “terrorism” that they will arrest anyone and everyone for quoting a movie. The U.S. Government must be so desperate to catch SOMEONE because they can’t seem to actually catch the people that they NEED to catch.

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