Another Facebook user, identified by police as Brian Sebring, told the newspaper that he replied, “If you want to voice your opinion, don’t do criminal activity, don’t get caught, be a productive member of society.”
Police did not confirm the facts of the argument but said that as it escalated, Stephens started sending “explicit messages and threats” to Sebring. Sebring then allegedly armed himself, drove to Stephens’s home in Tampa and shot him, according to an incident report.
Stephens, 46, survived. Sebring, 45, has been charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed firearm, according to online booking records.
“I’m not a bad guy, but I mean, this guy threatened to hurt my family, and I went off the deep end. I wasn’t thinking right,” Sebring told the Tampa Bay Times. He added that it concerns him that “I could lose my temper like that and do something so stupid.”
Stephens could not immediately be reached for comment on the incident.
It’s unclear what exactly was said during the men’s written exchange, but one Facebook user told the Tampa Bay Times that Sebring was “badmouthing felons who couldn’t vote.”
Records show that Stephens has served several stints in state prison, most recently for drug-related crimes including marijuana and cocaine possession. He was released in 2016, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. In 13 states, including Florida, people convicted of certain crimes may permanently lose their right to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The verbal argument evolved into a physical confrontation after Stephens, who had allegedly been threatening Sebring’s wife and autistic son, gave Sebring an address and told him to come over to continue the fight, Sebring told the Tampa Bay Times. The newspaper, which obtained a screen shot of the exchange, reported that Sebring replied, “Dude I’m going to empty a full 5.56 magazine into your head.”
Authorities said Sebring grabbed an AR-15-style rifle and a semiautomatic pistol, drove to the address and honked his car horn and Stephens came out, running toward him. Sebring, who was armed, drew a gun and opened fire, according to the police.
The police said Sebring first fled from the scene but that he later handed himself over to the authorities.
It’s unclear whether Sebring has an attorney in the case. After his arrest, he was released on $9,500 bond, according to booking records. It’s also unclear when he is set to appear in court.
“I ruined my life over this,” the 45-year-old told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now my mother is too afraid to leave the house, my sons are afraid to walk to school or church, all because of some keyboard gangsters.”