A St. Louis man who authorities say made threats against local police on social media — including some that referenced the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown — will face criminal charges for his tweets.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 35-year-old Jason Valentine has been charged with 10 felony counts of making a terrorist threat. If convicted, each charge would carry a maximum prison term of seven years, according to the newspaper.
“The defendant admits to using the twitter user handle @jdstl314 and being the sole poster under that user handle,” a probable cause statement reads. “Through my investigation I was able to determine that the defendant posted at least nine threats to kill St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Officers. Defendant used the slang ‘pig’ and ’12’ to describe police officers.”
The statement also notes that Valentine, whose Twitter account was suspended earlier this week, threatened to blow up the St. Louis City Justice Center, and referenced “kill a pig night” and the death of Vonderrit D. Myers Jr. in his online posts.
According to the documents, some of Valentine’s tweets included the hashtag #Ferguson, where Brown was shot by Darren Wilson in August. Myers, who was also 18, was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer in the city’s Shaw neighborhood in October.
Authorities say that Valentine also once tweeted about getting “$ to Kill DW,” an apparent reference to Wilson, a former Ferguson police officer who resigned his post a few days after a grand jury decided against indicting him for the death of Brown.
Reports the Post-Dispatch:
A police source says the department stepped up efforts to identify Valentine after two police officers were killed in New York on Dec. 20.
Since their deaths, police departments from across the country contacted St. Louis police to warn them of Valentine’s tweets, the source said.
This isn’t the first time authorities have arrested someone for social media activity about Ferguson. About a week after the grand jury reached its decision, a Washington state man was taken into custody for his Facebook posts, which investigators said threatened Wilson’s life.
“Wanted For Murder of Mike Brown,” read a graphic that Jaleel Tariq Abdul-Jabbaar allegedly posted in September, which showed Wilson in uniform, according to a complaint. Under the graphic, Abdul-Jabbaar wrote: “This dude needs his house sprayed.”
For more on online threat cases, you should read this Volokh Conspiracy post, “How rare are online threat prosecutions?”
And check out Katie Zezima’s article that followed the fatal shootings of the two New York police officers: “On social media, trying to discern a rant from an imminent explosion of violence.”
Increasingly, departments are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter as intelligence-gathering tools and vehicles for community outreach.
Kenneth S. Springer, a former FBI agent who runs Corporate Resolutions, a New York-based firm that spots online threats and risks for corporate clients, said the Internet is the equivalent of a wiretap for the 21st century.
“Back in my day, the FBI had wiretaps or surveillance to find out where people will be meeting. Now it’s monitoring the Internet,” he said. “That’s why law enforcement is going to have to devote more resources to this. And hopefully they’ll thwart the next thing such as this.”