A Young Man's Violent Threat on Facebook Lands Him in Jail, and Limbo

Justin Carter said he would "shoot up a kindergarten," but is that a "terroristic threat" according to Texas law?

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Carter's mother wrote: "Justin is out of jail, but he is not free."

Approximately one hour after Justin Carter posted a sarcastic comment on a Facebook thread, his life began to ­unravel.

The process began behind the scenes, in another country. The 18-year-old Carter had no way of knowing that, while he did grunt work at a drapery shop in San Antonio, a person in Canada saw his comments — posted 60 days after the Sandy Hook school-shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut — freaked out and initiated a 24-hour chain reaction of insanity that would wind up with Carter facing ten years in prison.

Prosecutors have failed to produce the entire thread containing Carter's alleged threat, according to his attorney, Don Flanary.
Image courtesy of Don Flanary
Prosecutors have failed to produce the entire thread containing Carter's alleged threat, according to his attorney, Don Flanary.
Attorney Don Flanary of San Antonio says Justin Carter was coerced into confessing to something that wasn't even a crime.
Josh Huskin
Attorney Don Flanary of San Antonio says Justin Carter was coerced into confessing to something that wasn't even a crime.

Carter's comments were part of a duel between dorks and may have had something to do with a game with strong dork appeal called League of Legends. But the actual details and context of the online exchange are, in the eyes of Texas authorities, unimportant. Prosecutors say they don't have the entire thread — instead, they have three comments on a cell-phone screenshot.

One of the comments appears to be a response to an earlier comment in which someone called Carter crazy. Carter's retort was: "I'm fucked in the head alright, I think I'ma SHOOT UP A KINDERGARTEN [sic]."

Carter followed with "AND WATCH THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT RAIN DOWN."

When a person writing under the profile name "Hannah Love" responded with "i hope you [burn] in hell you fucking prick," Carter put the cherry on top: "AND EAT THE BEATING HEART OF ONE OF THEM." (The Austin police officer who wrote up the subsequent report noted: "All caps to emphasize his anger or rage." )

That's when someone in Canada — an individual as yet unidentified in court records — notified local authorities. Because Carter's profile listed him as living in Austin, the Canadians sent the tip to the Austin Police Department. Along with a cell-phone screenshot of part of the thread and a link to Carter's Facebook page, the tipster provided this narrative: "This man, Justin Carter, made a number of threats on facebook to shoot up a class of kindergartners...He also made numerous comments telling people to go shoot themselves in the face and drink bleach. The threats to shoot the children were made approximately an hour ago [sic]."

The information was forwarded to the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, an information clearinghouse for law enforcement agencies in Travis, Hays and Williams counties.

Center personnel ran Carter's name, found either a driver's license or a state ID card and discovered that the address listed was "within 100 yards" of Wooldridge Elementary School. Based on a Travis County prosecutor's belief that there was probable cause to charge Carter with a third-degree terroristic threat — which carries a penalty of two to ten years — a judge issued an arrest warrant. U.S. Marshals traced Carter to the drapery shop in San Antonio where he worked and handcuffed the cherub-faced, brown-haired teen. Until that point, his only brush with the law was a temporary restraining order two years earlier.

After his booking into the Bexar County Jail, authorities discovered that he actually lived in New BraunfelsComal County. After his transfer there, his bond was increased from $250,000 to half a million dollars.

According to Carter's attorney, Don Flanary, the 18-year-old suffered brutal attacks in the Comal County Jail during the four months he was held there.

Police records allege that, upon being booked into Bexar County Jail, Carter stated, "I guess what you post on Facebook matters."

He had no idea.
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When officers searched Carter's home, Flanary says, they did not find the hallmarks of a lunatic.

"They found no guns in his house," Flanary says from his San Antonio office. "They found no bomb-making materials." He follows this up with a dash of sarcasm that's not a far stretch from the rhetorical flourishes that put his client in peril: "They didn't find The Anarchist Cookbook...They didn't find, you know, a bunch of newspaper clippings on the wall — conspiracy theories, with yarn from one place to another. They didn't find pentagrams and candles. He wasn't listening to Judas Priest."

Flanary's explanation for this is simple: His client is not a nut. But Flanary can't say the same for the jam his client's in. "This whole thing is totally and completely bonkers."

In the absence of any other evidence mentioned in Comal County prosecutor Laura Bates's filings, it's hard to disagree. Despite repeated calls, the Houston Press was unable to speak with Bates or anyone else in the Comal County District Attorney's Office — a receptionist told us that the only person authorized to speak to the media was District Attorney Jennifer Tharp herself, and she was unavailable.

One of the most striking things about the evidence so far tendered by the state is what's missing: the entire thread — which wasn't on Carter's Facebook page — containing the damning comments.

"The state tells us Facebook didn't give it to them," Flanary says. He's unsuccessfully tried to find "Hannah Love," the only other profile included in the cell-phone screenshot; at this point, it's still unclear whether "Hannah Love" is the anonymous Canadian tipster.

Flanary believes it's paramount that if someone is criminally charged on the basis of his words, a jury needs to see all the words. In this case, that includes whatever comment precipitated Carter's hyperbolic rant.

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20 comments
kbmtx
kbmtx

What he did is what all teenagers do. Bitch to friends, say shocking and outrageous things, argue with anyone, feel all alone/emo angst like. The biggest difference is we now have this platform to say anything we want at any time with 'anonymity' and we don't think about how it comes out.

I was a kid like him. Hard working, never been in a fight, also thought of suicide as a teenager (like most of them) and i definitely said dumb things like 'Oh i'm gonna kill this person!' Or "god these kids should get hit by cars"

I still say thinks like 'I hate ___! I just wanna kill her/him/it!' or 'F this place let it burn!' That doesn't mean I am going to follow through with any of that. It is just venting frustrations or annoyances. 


The police should never have arrested him and held him for so long in Jail. If anything respond to something like that and get a search warrant. If there is no sign of planning, or anything that shows intent...let them go with a fine for being a dumb ass. Or something else along those lines. Max time allowed to hold someone...48hrs at the police station, not a prison with actual Criminals.

Besides I am fairly sure that if someone was planning on shooting up a kindergarten, or bombing something they wouldn't post it on line for everyone to see. 

thirteenmitredabbots
thirteenmitredabbots

The person in Canada did not initiate this. I stopped reading after that. I see in the comments he was raped. That is another issue. Just because the jails need to be cleaned up doesn't mean that crimes should be ignored. I feel sorry for him on a personal level but he did this to himself. 

RebeccaS
RebeccaS

This type of article is what The Houston Press does best. Thanks, Mr. Malisow.

Stuart Leo Dulek
Stuart Leo Dulek

Okay, so I read the article and the judicial system in that county sucks big time, what they need to do is counter sue for mistrial and take it to the circuit court! But that's cuz the prosecution was so messed up as far as the merits if the case the guy should definitely be charged with some crime I mean comments like that are ridiculous and uncalled for, get some social sense or be charged with crime but it should be like $500 or a week in jail not some crazy two years stuff

Joedee
Joedee

Prosecutorial overreach is an epidemic in the United States. These douchebags are careerists first and foremost, and in their mechanical minds, they think they need to put as many people in jail as possible, whether guilty or innocent, in order to further those aims.

bdoppes
bdoppes

he'd already done time! / while real idiots walk free / then there's the anonyminity of the Canadian b**tch self-proclaimed watchdog and superior suburban mom that lands a young main into a jail cell and nothing is done to investigate her???/  people say and talk Sh** all the time on the net/ and facebook blocks so much BUT they let bullying 'threads' roll on and on/  so done with facebook/ the hipocrasy is surreal with them / then there's this media zealot prosecutor- Thorpe- something- from bum f** texas that 'has her eye' on this case / this case gets me so upset

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

Sounds like he is the victim of an egregiously ambitious prosecutor. Good on Flanary for taking his case.

Venessa Singh
Venessa Singh

Agreeed^^ all that stuff that happened to him after he posted that comment is a result of his stupidity .. Serves him right indeed

Erica Murphey
Erica Murphey

I think the guy was looking for attention in a twisted sort of way but he needs to learn that the police take that stuff seriously and it's not funny. It serves him right.

Anon
Anon

Facebook is a public space. You can't walk into a crowded theater and scream, "Fire!." It's against the law. And you shouldn't be able to go on a social media site and announce -whether you are joking or not - that you are about to go massacre a bunch of children. This has nothing to do with free speech. If this asshole has to spend some time in jail in order to learn that he needs to shut his fucking mouth when he gets a sociopathic thought then I say so what. Maybe other clowns like this kid will take heed and learn some basic manners.

DoomsdayJay
DoomsdayJay

The real reason Comal County Jail is being so hush hush about this is because they are covering up what happens inside. Listen to this recording made by a whistle blower to the jail about Justin and the conditions of said jail. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnz99usCQZQ


Also Google search Friends And Family Of Comal County Inmates for more resources and other recordings.

awoundedbeast
awoundedbeast

@thirteenmitredabbots He did it to himself.... yes quite the words of an empathetic person who truly feels sorry for someone, Pontius Pilate. You didn't keep reading to the point where it was explained that it actually wasn't a crime and the powers that be that you so mindlessly defer to are desperately holding on hoping for a plea because they fear being held accountable for their actions. And by actions I mean being accessaries to rape. If you send someone to prison -- where their safety is your responsibility -- and that person gets raped then you are like the guy holding Jodie Foster to the pinball machine in The Accused. You are complicit in the crime. By excusing the behavior of the authorities and willingly remaining ignorant, you are also complicit.

tjs_mail_2
tjs_mail_2

Are you saying he deserved to be raped, Erica Murphey?

awoundedbeast
awoundedbeast

@Anon  You analogy fails. Saying it was like he walked into a theatre and shouted fire would imply that he made these comments in a place where people at the school could actually hear them and have their safety threatened by the commotion. This is more like shouting fire into a phone, having the receiver put on speaker phone, then the shout echoes down the street into the open door of a theater and then someone with super hearing hears the whisper of fire and freaks out. Yeah, the guy who said fire in that case deserves to be hanged. Right?

craig.malisow
craig.malisow

@Anon  "This has nothing to do with free speech." Well, actually, it sort of has everything to do with free speech -- hence, the story. The state must prove that his comment meets the definition of "terroristic threat" as charged. Not to repeat a cliche here, but just because someone finds a comment offensive or "sociopathic," that does not automatically make that comment meet the definition of terroristic threat as codified by Texas law. 

 
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