Facebook post results in prison for trash-talking teen

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order

Somebody playing League of Legends called Justin Carter, then 18 years old, "crazy."

His response, according to police, was to toggle over to Facebook and post these messages on his own page on 13 February:

facebook rude post

“I’m f*cked in the head alright, I think I’ma SHOOT UP A KINDERGARTEN”

“AND WATCH THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT RAIN DOWN”

“AND EAT THE BEATING HEART OF ONE OF THEM”

The now-19-year-old from Texas, US, was arrested in March 2013 in connection with the posts, on a third-degree felony charge of making a “terroristic threat.”

Carter's family and lawyer claim that the comment was merely a sarcastic response to a comment from another Facebook poster.

His father, Jack Carter, told CNN that his son followed the violent postings with "LOL" and "J/K" to indicate that his comments weren't serious.

Donald Flanary, a defense attorney who recently took up the case on a pro bono basis, told the Christian Science Monitor that it was nothing more than "banter by kids on the internet":

"He’s a gamer... He never intended to threaten anyone. He wasn’t serious."

Carter has been in custody for 4.5 months so far, with bail set at an extraordinarily high $500,000.

Flanary told National Public Radio that such a high bail is unprecedented in his experience:

"I have been practicing law for 10 years, I've represented murderers, terrorists, rapists. Anything you can think of. I have never seen a bond at $500,000."

Even though law enforcement must be sensitive to these kinds of comments, the high bail and the months-long imprisonment is unjust, when considering the case turns on out-of-context Facebook posts, Flanary said.

Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center at the Newseum in Washington and dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, told the CSM that there's no underlying trend here.

But even a handful of cases wherein Americans lose their liberty for inadvisable postings such as this is alarming, Paulson said:

“There are safeguards that should lead to a critical analysis of provocative speech... [It seems in this case as though] the entire [legal] system has overreacted to this post.”

Carter's search warrant and arrest warrant show that while computer devices were seized, police found no weapons when searching Carter's home.

Even police in the town Carter live in are, at least implicitly, admitting that he's not a real threat.

That's my take, at any rate, given New Braunfels Police Lt. John Wells's comment to NPR, in which he calls the case "unfortunate":

"The whole situation is kind of unfortunate. ...We definitely understand the situation that Mr. Carter is in, however he made the comments, and it is an offense. We have to ... protect the general public and specifically, in this case, with it involving schoolchildren, we have to act. We take those very seriously."

It really does appear that Carter was a teen who said some stupid things online. I hope police and the legal system release him as soon as possible.

Tablet. Image courtesy of ShutterstockAs it is, Carter is being beaten up in jail and is suffering from depression, according to media outlets.

Given the context, it seems that Justin Carter is being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment for the simple crime of being young and big-mouthed.

Law enforcement's caution is understandable. Threats of violence toward schools can't be taken lightly.

But continuing this case, and continuing to subject this unfortunate young man to the abuse he's currently suffering while in custody, is nonsensical.

A hearing to reconsider Carter’s bail is set for July 16.

An online petition for Carter's release had received nearly 87,000 signatures as of Sunday.

He was trash-talking.

Kids do that.

This one probably won't do it again.

Let's hope the judicial machinery churns through this case quickly so this young man can get out of prison - before things get even worse.

Image of tablet courtesy of Shutterstock. Image of Facebook screen courtesy of Thinglass / Shutterstock.com

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37 Responses to Facebook post results in prison for trash-talking teen

  1. Andrew · 434 days ago

    I am sure this kid did not mean what he said knowing that Facebook is aiding the NSA in spying on it's followers. it just goes to show that the authorities are way too paranoid. I am sure this was all just a bit of banter.

    • Kare · 433 days ago

      But truthfully, there's no way you can absolutely "be sure". I'm not saying the punishment fits the crime, though.

    • Joe · 429 days ago

      They left out what he posted right after posting this. His next post was: "LOL j/k".

      Obviously he was joking. It was extremely distasteful, but obviously a freaking joke.

    • Anonymous · 92 days ago

      He said something really terrible, but I miss the days in America where u could say something really terrible and not get arrested for it...

  2. Guest · 434 days ago

    Part of growing up to adulthood is learning what to say and what not to say. This young man, he is an adult now as he is over 18 (at least in Europe he is adult), has not learnt what not to say and so is suffering the attention of the law. That is life. I you do the crime, you do the time.

    • Flonkbob · 431 days ago

      Here's the problem, guest...it's not supposed to be a crime in the USA to say stupid things. If it was, well pretty much everyone in Congress would be in jail. The first amendment protects (okay, USED to protect) this idiots right to be an idiot. Now we've given up all our protections from the Bill of Rights in order to allow the government to fail in a 'War on Terror'. I'm far more afraid of my government than I am of any idiot with a big mouth. For that matter the government scares me more than the real terrorists in the middle east.

  3. Andy Loates · 434 days ago

    I'm sorry but he's not 'a kid' as you put it. He was 18 when he posted that message. He simply cannot have been ignorant of the furore the post would cause, and the fact federal agencies would take a threat to the safety of kindergarten children seriously.

    Where I come from you never, EVER make threats against a nursery school or infant children; not even in jest. Speaking as a parent of a young child I say he deserves to be locked up for a very long time.

    Andy Loates
    UK

    • Jesus Christ, you act like he shot up a school. It's not like he sent in a threat to a school or media or police, he posted it on his Facebook, clearly in hyperbolic jest. I guarantee you millions of equally horrific things are said all over the internet and in person every day. If you had it your way, would you lock up all them for a "very long time" too?

      Sure, send him to jail, where he's likely to be beat up, shanked, or raped. Do you really think that's going to help his mentality? Do you even care that his life has been ruined over a silly comment on the internet?

      I prey your child never goes to prison for something as foolish as this.

    • Robbie W · 433 days ago

      He was making a joke. A joke that was directed at noone. It was neither directed at you or your "young child." When your "young child" grows up and starts making mistakes you're going to do everything in your power to make sure he's not punished for them. He doesn't deserve to be locked up for a very long time for making a joke. This isn't "where you come from."

    • Bob · 433 days ago

      This case is particularly shocking because it is clearly a joke. A person was deprived of liberty and beaten for an easily and carelessly published comment.
      Even where a threat is made, the response should be informed by the circumstances in which the threat was made as well as the wording of the threat - I would not expect a jail sentence for a threat in these circumstances.
      Given that this was a joke, there is no excuse. There needs to be accountability among elected officials. A state which perpetrates crimes like this is difficult to justify.
      Everyone commenting here that the boy was stupid or that he deserves to go to jail: if you are joking you should be less dry, and if not you should get therapy. You definitely should not be a parent.

    • What if he was talking about a game like Serious Sam or Postal? There is a lot of games that one can relate this facebook comment to.
      Take the examples above, both of them contains mayhem, bloodshed at fictional public and governmental places.

      I can't even give you a number on how many games that have a storyline with the objective to kill as many and as effective as possible, including but not limited to governmental personnel, civilian, children, criminals and so on.

      Andy, I sincerely hope that your children doesn't play any games and if they do, for the love of god I hope that they don't talk about the game content or the game at all. Because If this continues even you will have to visit your children at HMP.

  4. Mike · 434 days ago

    Hey, 19 years old? Thats not a kid anymore. He has a brain and he can use it. If police is not reacting and children are killed everyone blames police and government ... you know it and you didnt do anything. If they take it serious the guy is called a "19 year" old child without much brain...

  5. daniellynet · 434 days ago

    "Carter's search warrant and arrest warrant show that while computer devices were seized"
    Could anyone with more knowledge than me on this one tell me why his computers were seized? I understand it in cases with child porn, but when you "only" make threats? Is it to stop him from doing it again once he gets released?

    • Jon · 434 days ago

      Seizure of computer equipment is not uncommon in a case like this because, should the threat be found to be real, the computer may contain links, emails etc. of possible accomplices or links to other violent offenders. Most nuts who are in fact criminally inclined tend to go into chat rooms and the like and usually find others looking to do the same.

      • daniellynet · 411 days ago

        Ah, I see. Didn't think of that. Thanks for telling me.

  6. SumGuy954 · 434 days ago

    The guy did go to far, but I don't agree with jail. They used to just put people in a mental institution to see if they are ok in the head when their words went to far. I am a good example. I have not killed any one but in anger I have said some messed up things. Nothing in the sort of killing children. More like the sort of thing a terrorist would say, but I have never had intent. This news scares me because i still say some pretty extreme things at times.

    I was a loose cannon in my days, if Facebook had existed then, I am sure I may have posted some of my anger. I would not be kidding, but i would have no intent in carrying out any of my trash talk. At least now, I usually am a bit more careful in what i say.

    Basically this case will set precedent on future situations. The ability to take something bad you say back is whats truly getting lost, along with free speech, despite how bad this guy's words are.

  7. Wolf_Star · 434 days ago

    It's amazing how stupid some bureaucrats can be. It appears we've really, truly entered the realm of Big Brother and 1984 with its Thought Police. It wouldn't have taken much to interview the young man and find out his true intentions, but no...they need to destroy his life as an object lesson to others. Idiots.

  8. 2072 · 434 days ago

    How do they want the world to trust them with things like PRISM when they can't even see the difference between a 13 years old child and a terrorist... American justice at its highest!

    • Anon · 434 days ago

      America has a big history of disgruntled teens shooting up their schools, its no surprise that they would take this seriously to prevent it happening again.

      Its a real open sore for them.

      Personally I don't agree with how heavy handed they are against him, but I can see why they would take it seriously.

  9. MonicaC · 434 days ago

    Apparently he is already undergoing corporal punishment at the hands of his fellow inmates (let's hope not the guards); isn't that enough?

  10. JRD · 434 days ago

    Eighteen, nineteen, you don't immediately become enlightened when you reach a certain age. I realize that our laws have to establish a cut off somewhere, but our laws aren't enforced by robots. Human beings evaluate things and make judgement calls. I think the judgement in this case was faulty. He was a kid making stupid comments on the Internet. He should have been investigated and interviewed, probably served a search warrant. When it was determined that, yes, he was just making stupid comments and had no intention of doing anything bad IRL to anyone, he should have been sent on his way no worse for wear but perhaps more thoughtful about what he puts online.
    Instead he has been jailed, beaten, and now kept naked in solitary confinement. He'll suffer PTSD for the remainder of his life. He'll never be able to get a decent job and will likely have trouble making friends due to the huge black mark on his past.
    All because he made a very poorly thought out threat on the Internet designed to make his friends laugh.
    If you think that is justice, then I guess we welcome our new overlords, lie down, and let them walk all over us.

  11. Had a friend who was fired from a job because in frustration he txt a coworker saying about their boss "I just want to kill her" I think we've all felt that way at some point, I guess the difference is we didn't put it in writing. Lesson learned.

  12. herzco · 434 days ago

    So how does one differentiate between one 19 year old's threat of violence and someone elses? At some point a person, in this case an adult, needs to be accountable for what they write on an online forum.

    The authorities cannot just blithely ignore this one and not others simply because he is a gamer or wrote 'JK' after his statement. They must respond to all threats like this. He should not be being beaten up in jail, but I do understand why authorities arrested him.

  13. Jon · 434 days ago

    Time to play devil's advocate and ask the question no one seems to want to:

    What if the police ignored the complaint and something in fact happened? what would the outcry be then?

    It's a fair question.

    Now that I've done my bit to stir the hornet's nest, let me point out that, as has been confirmed by law enforcement, the young man has been confirmed as being foolish and nothing else. He should be released immediately without further harm or record.

  14. 1984 · 434 days ago

    I'm sorry, the Kids that shot up Columbine HS were only 16 years old. If a few young people are going to act out some of these terrible things, then the rest of our young people need to put a filter on their mouths.

    How do we tell whether it's a kid being funny, or a potential serial killer. I agree with the police and the legal system on this one. Send a message that is loud and clear, we have freedom of speech, but cannot yell fire in a crowded building, nor can we threaten murder and death on elementary schools.

    Fiinally, where were this "childs" parents while he was developing such a wonderful sense of humor? Why wasn't he taught right from wrong, and what is socially acceptable? Did they find him funny and encourage his outrageous comments?

  15. Donna · 434 days ago

    18 isn't a kid? He can't drink, he's barely been driving and fresh out of high school (could still be in it as far as I know.)

    It never fails to crack me up when people go all high horse over stuff KIDS do. Do they not remember what idiots they were at 15, 16, 17, 19, 19, 20?

    If it was your kid, I don't think you feel he was as much of an adult as you seem to think he is.

  16. matt · 434 days ago

    To paraphrase Monty Python...

    America, America. We love you. Amen.

  17. Joe Camel · 434 days ago

    Hey 2072 the guy was 18. You saw the number "13" next to "February" but didn't read the word "February" and just assumed it was his age and posted down here without reading the article.

    :(

  18. Zoot Scoot · 433 days ago

    This isn't about the kid. It's about sending a control shot to everyone else. Why do ACTUAL terrorists, murderers, rapists get so much lower bail and this loud mouth teen get bail set at a level the lawyer has never seen before?

    Why was the fact that he followed up his posts saying LOL J/K (which means Laughing Out Loud, Joking to be clear) ignored? He wasn't being serious. It was obviously a joke response to his friends making some comment about him. Even if it was in bad taste it was still a joke.

    Joke's on the rest of you though. Land of the free aha. Yeah right.

  19. Nitro · 433 days ago

    Wow....what? -- Why would you arrest a ninteen years old just for making a simple joke? beat him? but...that's just wrong...You can't arret him,he wasn't make any threats nor he really wanted to murder anybody...he was just making a joke,lol,actually,go to YT,you'll see [awful] threats like [Ed: removed] are normal comments over my sock channel.
    But nobody,NOBODY arrests trolls over YouTube,yet,American police arrest a teen,of literally my age,just for making a joke..."paranoid" they say...

  20. Maybe we actually need this to happen MORE OFTEN. There is something WRONG when a generation grows up to think terrorists threats against children is IN ANY WAY -- AT ANY TIME -- a joking matter.

    Good example..It is against the law to even jokingly yell fire in a theater. There is a REASON stupid things should not be said "just for fun" and there seems to be a whole generation out there that just doesn't get it.

    I am sorry if he is getting beat up in jail... but maybe it has finally gotten through his brain that some thing are NOT FUNNY EVER. Some things are NOT JOKES to any thinking person. And if you rile up the parents protecting their children...you won't be laughing long. Do you think he GETS IT now?

    • Aars McGarkle · 433 days ago

      YOUR ARE IGNORANT! It is illegal to shout "fire" in a theater becasuse it might cause injury or damage as people run out of the theatre. It is "illegal" becasue it could casue a riot.

      A person SHOULD be free to express their thoughts. This is really an attempt to condition the next generation to NOT GET OUT OF LINE!

      Welcome to Nazi America!

  21. They were all playing a game where they were pretending to be mass-murdering warlords, but they had no trouble understanding that it was not real. In the context everyone reading this kid's comment ought to have realised that this was also play acting.

    If I say to my kids that I am going to chop them into bits and eat them, they fully understand that I am teasing them and that ingesting their body parts in small chunks is the last thing I would really do. Now if someone else overhears me saying that, should I be thrown into jail because that person is too stupid to work out what is going on?

    The real agenda behind the severity of the charges and the absurdity of the bail conditions here is that the military-industrial-security complex is trying to lower the threshold of what can be considered terrorist talk until even quite serious and legitimate political comment becomes impossible.

  22. JohnS · 430 days ago

    Interesting.. The justice system never fails to surprise me.

  23. samreenm · 427 days ago

    I agree with JRD carter. He was a kid, just making stupid comments without realizing the drastic consequences. This undeserved punishment may turn him into some defensive person so he must be released as soon as possible.

    Samreen M

  24. ben · 421 days ago

    if someone yells "FIRE" in a theater that is not on fire, then they are doing something criminal. this kid did something very similar but online. given that he's 18 years old then he could have access to firearms and thus his threat must be taken very seriously.

    also this doesn't seem like some far fetched crying of wolf (like some other commentators have made it seem). if the Boston bombings and Sandy hook shootings have taught us nothing it is that we must always remain vigilant

  25. IDHWhy · 348 days ago

    That he was arrested is absurd, though considering how people treat things posted on the internet, it's somewhat understandable.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.