Wash. appeals court: Student’s texts were true threats

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A middle school student uttered unprotected true threats when he sent a text message about coming to school with an M16 rifle to “end everyone,” a Washington state appeals court has ruled.

On May 7, 2010, a juvenile identified as M.W., a student at Yelm Middle School near Olympia, sent the following text message to a female student, A.C.:

I DESERVE YOU and your friends shouldn’t JUDGE ME, and say I’m weird. I thought you hated people who judge or do you just hate me? They’re worse than me. Probably a bunch of smokers and Mariah needs to shut the fuck up, and stop saying I’m your stalker, and you agree with her. Thanks. I shouldn’t even try. I should just walk into the school with an M16, and end everyone just give up just be like, fuck you all, I’m tired of you being stupid.

After M.W. sent more text messages about shooting other students, A.C. told a friend. That friend’s mother alerted school officials, who asked A.C. about the messages. School officials searched M.W. for weapons but found none. Principal David Myers expelled M.W. anyway.

The state brought two charges of gross misdemeanor harassment against M.W. for allegedly threatening A.C. and Myers. The principal said he took M.W.’s saying he would ‘end everyone’ as including a threat to everyone at school, including the principal.

At trial, A.C. testified that she didn’t really take the messages seriously, thinking that M.W. was just being crude. However, Myers testified that he took them seriously because M.W. had drawn pictures of people shooting and stabbing each other. He also reported that M.W. once threatened to stab another student with a pair of scissors he had hidden up his sleeve and had made other threats in the past.

A juvenile court found that M.W. was not guilty of threatening A.C. but was guilty of threatening Myers. On appeal, a Washington appeals court affirmed that court in State of Washington v. M.W.

The appeals court noted in its Nov. 22 ruling that in order to constitute gross misdemeanor harassment, the statement or statements in question have to be a true threat — defined as a “statement made in a context or under such circumstances wherein a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted as a serious expression to inflict bodily harm or to take a life.”

The appeals court noted that given M.W.’s prior disciplinary history, it was reasonable for Myers to believe that M.W. had made a threat. The appeals court added that “a reasonable person, in M.W.’s circumstances, would have foreseen that Myers would take his threat as a serious expression of his intent to shoot persons at the school.”

M.W.’s parents submitted evidence to the appeals court that M.W. suffered from Asperger’s Disorder. But, the appeals court noted that this evidence was not submitted at trial and could not be considered for the first time on appeal.

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