Underzealous Prosecutor Fails To Press 'Terroristic Threats' Charges Against Professor Who Jokes About Shooting Up His Campus

from the taking-the-easy-way-out dept

Normally, when a story involves someone being arrested for conveying a “threat” via social media, the protagonist usually has yet to hit the legal drinking age. And usually the protagonist ends up facing serious “terroristic threat” charges for firing off an ill-advised statement that is subsequently stripped of context and offered up by prosecutors as justification as evidence of another youthful terrorist-in-the-making.

This particular case has none of the above. The protagonist is presumably a pillar of the community — a 57-year-old communications professor with no history of criminal activity. His crime? Well, at first it was this:

What got the communications teacher into trouble initially was a recent Facebook post in which he told a colleague that he was always optimistic at the start of the school year.

But, his post said, “by October, I’ll be wanting to get up to the top of the bell tower with a high powered rifle — with a good scope, and probably a gatling gun as well.”

Joke or not, the post ignited outrage in the post-Virginia Tech world.

Rouch was arrested at 1:15 p.m. Thursday and confined in the county jail on a 24-hour hold.

Given the context, it’s fairly clear to see this was a joke, albeit it a somewhat tasteless one. Considering the fact that it references an event that occurred 47 years ago, you would think the comment wouldn’t have been greeted with as much alarm as it was. The “too soon” joke embargo window should have long since expired.

Unfortunately, in the current climate of hyper-awareness and oversensitivity, “too soon” has been extended to “in perpetuity.” Rather than simply point out that it’s bad form for a professor to joke about taking his students out with a rifle/gatling gun, the offended took their complaints to the top.

Duly notified, the local PD took Matthew Rauch into custody. And, as they should, the officers went to perform a check of his premises to ensure he wasn’t sitting on a small armory in preparation for October’s inevitable fatigue.

That’s when everything completely fell apart for Prof. Bad Joke.

Just to be sure, Rice decided to conduct a weapons search of the teacher’s Maryville home. No Gatling gun was found, but deputies said they discovered marijuana plants growing beneath heated lights, multiple baggies of pot and a few bongs, all sitting in plain sight.

“Looked like a lot of marijuana for personal use,” Rice said.

When future citizens regale their (most likely) imprisoned children about the dangers of social media , they’ll include this cautionary tale. In an era of heightened sensitivity, no person’s private pot stash is safe — not if they’re telling bad school shooting-related jokes in public. Stupidity still isn’t a crime (although some prosecutors seem to be hoping this changes), but possession is, at least in Nodaway County, Missouri, where the professor was arrested.

What’s curious about this case is how quickly the prosecutor decided Rauch’s post didn’t warrant charging him with communicating terroristic threats.

By Friday morning, authorities had decided they probably would not charge Rouch. Rice said he would have to prove Rouch was serious when he made the post.

“And I couldn’t do that,” Rice said Friday. “He claimed he was just joking and that all he had was a pellet gun.”

Other teens who’ve made similar careless statements online (and possessed just as many weapons as Rauch) seem to find themselves facing “terroristic threat” charges quite frequently, and for posts much less specific than claiming they’d be shooting up their own campus by mid-fall.

Did the PD and prosecutors believe that the drug charges were somehow enough punishment for the teacher? It’s not as if the charges couldn’t be “stacked.” Rauch could have easily been charged with both. Why wasn’t this pursued further? Was the prosecutor too hasty in deciding Rauch’s joke was just a joke?

I’m being facetious of course, but this sort of inconsistency needs to be pointed out. While the “terroristic threat” laws do serve a purpose, they’re more frequently misused to incarcerate non-terrorists who haven’t actually uttered threats.

When I compare this professor’s case with D’Ambrosio’s and Carter’s and the mentality guiding those prosecutions, as the devil’s advocate for the “justice” system, I see a lazy prosecutor going for the easy drug bust rather than working his ass off to lock up a clearly dangerous individual.

In this climate, no Facebook post is immune from being taken out of context and used against the person making the statement. No alleged “threat” is too small or too vague to avoid receiving prompt attention from law enforcement. Sure, these are all different jurisdictions and different prosecutors, but isn’t there some sort of national consensus on “security” and “safety” guiding the creation of anti-terrorism laws and statutes meant to assuage fear with broadly-written statutes and prosecutiorial overreaction? What happened here? People who support the treatment of Justin Carter and Cameron D’Ambrosio should be calling for Bob Rice’s head.

I don’t necessarily expect consistency from every jurisdiction, but I would at least expect some consistency from those who believe statements like Professor Rauch’s should be dealt with promptly and severely. That he’s actually being arraigned on drug charges should just be considered a bonus.

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Comments on “Underzealous Prosecutor Fails To Press 'Terroristic Threats' Charges Against Professor Who Jokes About Shooting Up His Campus”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Both reasonings are equally unfair and problematic for very different and yet similar reasons. The one the prosecutor ignored goes towards the war on terrorism and the other goes towards the war on drugs. Both failed endeavors with developments that are as damaging to society as they are long lasting.

The joke is incredibly funny. I had a math teacher that would say we were adorable little things she wanted to kill in a painful way. We all laughed and she was one of the best teachers I ever had. She has no history of criminal activity and last time I heard of her last year she was heading towards a healthy retirement. No student killed, no bullet shoot. But our fear and our thirst for absolute security seem to have killed any sense of humor, no? Thank God we can make such jokes here and walk away with everybody laughing. The moral police is strong here too. But they are mostly mocked and laughed at.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But our fear and our thirst for absolute security seem to have killed any sense of humor, no?

I made a joke on the phone a couple days ago about the NSA spying on my call. It was a dumb joke, but I do that from time to time. The person I was talking to said I shouldn’t joke about that, in case the NSA is really listening to the call. I nearly dropped the phone laughing at that response.

The moral police is strong here too. But they are mostly mocked and laughed at.

I wish it were the same here. I think they are winning.

Anonymous Coward says:

given the amount of surveillance that has been going on/is going on by the NSA, i am surprised that none of the people, including this professor, has ever had their surveillance ramped up a notch, which i assume would happen if

a) the surveillance was working how the NSA insists it is

b) they were actually going to carry out any of the so-called threats they make, because the NSA would be all over them, preventing it from happening, just like in the numerous FBI plots that keep being reported (we know they aren’t really plots but it makes the FBI appear to be doing their job)

PlayNicely says:

Re: Re:

Unlike low tier law enforcment I would give the NSA enough credit to realize that an obvious joke on facebook is nothing more than a little bit of potential political ammunition and thus just archived along with everything else.

Had it fallen into NSA’s purview of actual terroristic threat, foreign diplomacy, politicial opposition, economic secrets or petty crime though it would have been all over the professor, I guess.

GrayArea (profile) says:


They cannot prosecute a professor for threatening his students in such an obviously joking manner, because every teacher of any sort as done it and is not going to stop. You just have to teach one class to know why. The “adorable little things” quote is so accurate – even when dealing with adult students. The glow you get when they get it right is the high that keeps you in teaching, the dumb expressions when they are deliberately obtuse makes you want to smack some sense into them. This is a universal.

Anonymous Coward says:


Clearly these overzealous prosecutors are bullies who prey upon the weak to build their career. Older people with money and prestige? That is a losing proposition as they can both afford expensive lawyers and create attack ads or give large donations to your opponent next election.

No wonder bullying is a societal problem, we reward the bullies and punish the victims.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Conviction = SCORE!

Maybe it’s that the DoJ wants to put people in jail, but doesn’t care how, why or if doing so is warranted by just cause.

== == ==
As of this posting I have not received a US National Security Letter or any classified gag order from an agent of the United States
Encrypted with Morbius-Cochrane Perfect Steganographic Codec 1.2.001
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 1:01:54 PM
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