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.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.
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.
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.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.
“Looked like a lot of marijuana for personal use,” Rice said.
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.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.
“And I couldn’t do that,” Rice said Friday. “He claimed he was just joking and that all he had was a pellet gun.”
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.