There is an interesting case out of Mantua, Ohio. A 17-year-old student at Crestwood High School was arrested for posing with an assault rifle on Facebook and writing about the massacre in allegedly favorable terms. This followed the shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio.
Notably, the boy has not been charged with a weapons violation so the gun may have been legal. Instead, he was charged with first-degree misdemeanors, including two counts of inducing panic, one count each of aggravated menacing and telecommunications harassment.
I understand the concern of the school and the need to move quickly on such matters, including a suspension pending investigation. I also understand the emotive response to this reckless and thoughtless posting when so many are mourning the deaths of the Ohio students.
The charge of “inducing panic” and “menacing” has always concerned civil libertarians. Here is the provision on inducing panic:
2917.31 Inducing panic.
(A) No person shall cause the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or alarm, by doing any of the following:
(1) Initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false;
(2) Threatening to commit any offense of violence;
(3) Committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm. . . .
Note it is not just “caus[ing] the evacuation of any public place” but also “otherwise caus[ing] serious public inconvenience or alarm.” Serious public inconvenience? The ambiguity of that language raises serious constitutional concerns.
In this case, the boy posted the picture and wrote:
“I’m close to going on a stabbing spree. I can’t take some of these people anymore.”
“Who agrees with their friend that it’s a good idea to shoot up a school?”
The last comment was written hours after the attacks. However, why can’t students talk about such feelings or even admit identification with the anger? The concern is a slippery slope where, once the government begins to declare such statements as causing panic, a wide array of statements become fair game for arrest. What is interesting about the panic crime is that it practically turns not on the requirement of intent but on the view of other people to our picture or comments.
I do not see how this boy met the three conditional acts based on the news accounts even for a panic charge. He does not appear to have made a false report or threaten to kill or committed an offense.
The menacing provision is equally problematic in this context:
(A) No person shall knowingly cause another to believe that the offender will cause physical harm to the person or property of the other person, the other person’s unborn, or a member of the other person’s immediate family.
(B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of menacing. Except as otherwise provided in this division, menacing is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. If the victim of the offense is an officer or employee of a public children services agency or a private child placing agency and the offense relates to the officer’s or employee’s performance or anticipated performance of official responsibilities or duties, menacing is a misdemeanor of the first degree or, if the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to an offense of violence, the victim of that prior offense was an officer or employee of a public children services agency or private child placing agency, and that prior offense related to the officer’s or employee’s performance or anticipated performance of official responsibilities or duties, a felony of the fourth degree.
Effective Date: 04-10-2001
To “knowingly cause another to believe” is an incredibly fluid concept. Once again, this student was voicing his own feelings but did not directly call for any violent act. Even teachers have been known to pose with guns — though they have also faced punishment for such postings.
Based on these news reports, what do you think about the use of these panic and menacing provisions against the student?