Tweeted 'Terroristic Threat' Lands Another Teen In Trouble

from the it's-like-the-word-'threat'-has-lost-all-meaning dept

Here we go again. Another teen fires off a post on social media platform and ends up being portrayed by school administrators as "terroristic." This particular incident somehow finds the teen in question unharassed by law enforcement and unthreatened with a lengthy prison sentence, but it still contains lots of baffling details.

Tyson Leon, 16, was indefinitely suspended from school sports in late August after sending a tweet that school officials said constituted a terroristic threat.

He denies threatening anyone, and in U.S. District Court in St. Paul on Tuesday, attorney Meg Kane argued that the suspension is a violation of her client’s constitutional rights.
Leon wrestles and plays football for a Shakopee, MN high school. Over a weekend before the football season kicked off, he sent the following tweet.
“Im boutta drill my ‘teammates’ on Monday.”
Even those with only a passing familiarity with full contact sports will recognize that "drilling" means tackling someone hard. Even those with no sports experience would probably fail to see this as any sort of threat. However, those with vivid imaginations and panicky hands to wring saw Leon's tweet as something much more serious. Leon was hauled off the bus on the way to football practice and taken to the administrator's office for questioning.
Head coach Jody Stone and [athletic director] Janke met the boy in a conference room, closed the door and began interrogating him, according to Kane and Leon’s family.

“Neither … Janke nor Stone informed T.L.’s parents of their intent to interrogate T.L.,” the lawsuit said. “T.L. did not feel free to leave because of … Janke and Stone’s position as school officials.”
During this informal chat that Leon was compelled to attend, the two school officials raised allegations about the student's possible "chemical use" during a football retreat, along with confronting him about the tweet.

A later meeting involving Leon's parents dealt only with the tweet.
On Aug. 26, during a meeting with Leon and his parents, Stone and Janke produced a printed copy of Leon’s tweet about drilling his teammates, the lawsuit said. They said nothing more about the allegations of chemical use. A letter to the family dated Aug. 29 didn’t mention the chemical use either, but said Leon’s behavior violated school and league rules and that he was indefinitely suspended.
Leon was indefinitely suspended from the football team (although this wasn't clear at the time). The school claimed this was a result of cumulative violations and not because of his tweet. Leon has had three previous suspensions from the team, for a verbal altercation, a fight that occurred off school grounds and "chemical use" at a party in January. His parents didn't fight any of these previous suspensions, feeling Leon needed to suffer the consequences of his actions. However, they did object to the latest one, which was seemingly tied solely to Leon's tweet.

The school's logic for Leon's latest suspension was laid out by the district's attorney, Carla White.
On Tuesday, White pointed out that the suspension resulted from Leon’s fourth violation and that he and his family received a letter after his third violation reminding them that violations are cumulative and could cost him his eligibility.
The fourth violation apparently being the "threatening" tweet that contained no threat. As is detailed above, the letter sent to Leon's parent made no mention of the more recent alleged "chemical use." But, just in case anyone feels compelled to argue the latest suspension had nothing to do with the tweet, White's further statements make that crystal clear.
“Every single school administrator who read [the tweet] believed that he was threatening harm,” White said.
That doesn't say much for the administrators. Even the judge hearing the preliminary arguments had trouble buying that claim.
The judge questioned why, if administrators truly believed that the tweet was a threat, police weren’t called to the school.
Good question, especially considering it takes very little for most schools to call in law enforcement, whether its non-threatening "threats" being posted on social media or rumors of a water balloon fight.

White countered the judge's question by reaffirming the administrators' collective terrible judgement.
“They did believe it was a threat,” White said. “They did believe it was going to happen on Monday. They took care of it.”
Leon's family sued the school for violating Leon's constitutional rights, but it appears to have been settled after a meeting by both parties with the judge. The school has reinstated Leon to the wrestling team (of some importance to the student -- reportedly he's being scouted by a local college) but held onto his suspension from the football team.

This is probably the best possible outcome (barring a striking of his fourth suspension over a non-threatening tweet) considering Leon's attorney's statements show she was relying on a couple of dubious legal arguments. First, she claims Leon's participation in extracurricular sports is a "property right," but most schools view these as purely optional parts of the educational experience, something that often requires participants to follow extra rules the rest of the non-participating school body is exempt from. In fact, schools are under no federal obligation to provide interscholastic sports programs due to the extra financial burden it can place on schools for uniforms, travel, salaries, etc. So, from both the student side and the administrative side, these sports programs are clearly optional and in no way resemble a "right." Leon may have been concerned about his future scholarship chances, but three previous incidents indicate his desire for future sports participation was often overridden by his questionable judgement.

Second, Meg Kane claims the school violated rights by accessing "private" social media accounts. This is a tough sell in most courts. Even IF Leon's accounts were set to "private," anyone receiving his tweets, posts, etc. could easily disseminate them further. A "private" social media account is pretty much a misnomer and attempting to claim the school violated his privacy by accessing public postings (even if these were limited or filtered in any way) is a non-starter. There's a better argument to be made that rights were violated by the school's response to his protected speech, but there's not much to be had going the privacy route.

But, given all this, the question still remains: why did the school treat this tweet the way it did? It took a hard line, claiming it was a "terroristic threat" and questioned Leon without informing his parents. It also never informed the police, meaning the administration didn't view this as an actual threat, no matter what its legal representation says.

And if it didn't consider it to be a true threat -- either at the point of interception or after hearing Leon's explanation of the tweet -- why did it insist on following through with the suspension? Was it a way to punish him for the alleged "chemical use" it couldn't nail down conclusively but still believed occurred given Leon's disciplinary track record?

No matter what the rationale, the entire incident makes the Shakopee administration look ridiculous and even slightly vindictive. It clearly had nothing to do with this "terroristic" tweet and yet it followed through with the disciplinary actions and didn't bother clearing up any misunderstandings until it was facing a lawsuit. That's no way to run a school.



Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 25th, 2013 @ 9:08am

    “Every single school administrator who read [the tweet] believed that he was threatening harm,” White said.

    Which means there's not a single competent professional employed on that school. There's also not a single sane person in charge.

     

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  2.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 25th, 2013 @ 10:00am

    Re:

    Indeed. That statement alone is more than enough reason to get your kid out of the school and into one where the administrators aren't complete idiots. There's no way that school is being run well.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 10:10am

    why did the school treat this tweet the way it did? It took a hard line, claiming it was a "terroristic threat" and questioned Leon without informing his parents. It also never informed the police, meaning the administration didn't view this as an actual threat,

    Witch-hunt against someone they have taken a dislike to. This is what zero tolerance leads to.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 10:21am

    Drilling can also (obviously) refer to running drills, i.e. something that every student athlete on that team has done since Day 1.

    Anyone who saw that tweet as a threat is a straight-up idiot. We wonder why we have all these school shootings and never, not ONCE, has anyone thought "gee, maybe it's because we have people who are equal parts incompetent and insane running the schools?"

     

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  5. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 10:24am

    YET AGAIN, minion runs with premise was solely the one "tweet".

    Yes, even though right in this piece is given the contrary actual evidence, minion puts up a lie the headline, and clearly lays out biased position based on his far-distant third or fourth hand view. This piece is pure Techdirt: it's only to draw the usual outrage from the usual fanboy-trolls.

    Mike Masnick on Techdirt: "its typical approach to these things: take something totally out of context, put some hysterical and inaccurate phrasing around it, dump an attention-grabbing headline on it and send it off to the press."

    06:23:58[h-530-4]

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 10:31am

    Sorry, but this WAS a terrorist threat, by definition.

    TERRORISM: (noun) Any act officials in power dislike, or which can be used as an excuse for those in power to abuse that power.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 10:32am

    Re: YET AGAIN, minion runs with premise was solely the one "tweet".

    The other violations have literally nothing to do with this current suspension, in fact they are from ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ACADEMIC YEARS. You'd have to be a fucking moron to completely miss that.

    Wait, of COURSE you're a fucking moron, what am I even saying?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 25th, 2013 @ 10:39am

    In trouble with the law for being stupid.

    How is the entire Tea party not in trouble?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 25th, 2013 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re: YET AGAIN, minion runs with premise was solely the one "tweet".

    I'm afraid he is displaying a mindset shared by our moronic society: if any single bad thing has been made the person should be condemned for life and not allowed any chance of regeneration. Which is why we have many people unable to get decent jobs or with their rights limited for past crimes or errors that will never go away despite any effort from the one that did it wrong to fix it and not incur in any more issues.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 11:14am

    Re: YET AGAIN, minion runs with premise was solely the one "tweet".

    So your point is that because they are holding a grudge it's ok?

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 11:14am

    Re: Re: Re: YET AGAIN, minion runs with premise was solely the one "tweet".

    Also that it's ok to break the rules to get a rule breaker you can't actually show broke the rules.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 11:57am

    Re:

    I have just hit the "insightful" button on this until my fingers bled.

    Not only does this display profound stupidity and massive cowardice on the point of school officials, but it shows an appalling level of incompetence. School administrators so massively lacking in comprehension are in NO WAY equipped to actually discern a real threat, if and when one arrives, and are thus endangering students, staff, and faculty on a daily basis.

    A full investigation needs to take place, and every school administrator who was a part of this needs to be (a) summarily fired and (b) banned from school employment for life. I certainly would not want my children entrusted to the care of people like this.

     

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  13. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Re: YET AGAIN, minion runs with premise was solely the one "tweet".

    Fuck off, terrorist!

    (=^.~=)

     

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  14.  
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    Rekrul, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 12:13pm

    “Im boutta drill my ‘teammates’ on Monday.”

    They should be suspending his English teacher.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

    Re:

    Is more of the Zero Intelligence policy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 25th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

    Re:

    Drilling is also slang for sex. Perhaps what the administrators really objected to was that he wanted to make sweet, sweet love with his teammates.

     

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  17.  
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    Jake, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 1:09pm

    You know, I'll grant the school that the tweet does leave a certain amount up to interpretation; "drilling" someone has at least two colloquial meanings outside of American football, and at least one of them is grounds to be worried.

    But you'd think that since he was demonstrably not carrying a weapon (or condoms and lube for that matter), this could have been resolved with no disciplinary action, except possibly a detention writing "I will engage my brain before opening my big stupid mouth" a couple of hundred times.

     

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  18.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 25th, 2013 @ 1:47pm

    Re:

    I dunno, are you sure the school officials could write that sentence without having to break out a dictionary, and/or having a meltdown from being forced to admit to overreacting?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 2:46pm

    This is getting totally ridiculous. Monty Python did it better:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9vAVSCAwH4

    Enjoy.

     

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  20.  
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    anonymus dutch coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 3:44pm

    onion

    The Onion - America's Finest News Source!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 5:20pm

    I have a theory. All of these absurd, ridiculous, insane charges being levied against students are nothing more than the school admins looking for headlines and their names in the papers. This is probably based on the somewhat suspect Hollywood theory that "Any publicity is good publicity". No sane, reasonable person would even attempt to justify such charges. It has to be that PR, even negative PR is better than no PR.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 5:31pm

    Re:

    Exactly. Now that we know what "drilling" is, what is "boutta"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    DP, Oct 26th, 2013 @ 11:16am

    Re: YET AGAIN, minion runs with premise was solely the one "tweet".

    Usual uninformed vindictive load of b*ll*cks from you-know-who. Must be some sort of masochist who gets a kick from being criticised, I reckon.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 26th, 2013 @ 8:44pm

    In fact, schools are under no federal obligation to provide interscholastic sports programs due to the extra financial burden it can place on schools for uniforms, travel, salaries, etc. So, from both the student side and the administrative side, these sports programs are clearly optional and in no way resemble a "right."

    But it is paid for with tax money, so it must be available on a fair basis.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Silver Fang (profile), Oct 27th, 2013 @ 3:29pm

    Worst First

    School officials are trained to think with a "worst first" mentality, meaning they see threats where other people see humor. Air travelers will recognize this in the TSA, as they also are trained to think "worst first".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    DeadBolt (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 3:09am

    I'm sure the kid's lawyer can throw in a sexual discrimination accusation aswell since "drilling" is also a sex term

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Cowards Anonymous, Oct 30th, 2013 @ 12:02pm

    Suspended for tweeting that he intends to practice with his teammates on Monday like anyone would expect a sports team to do?

    I wonder what the school administrators would do to the drill team.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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