What ‘Reasonable People’ Know Debated in Threat Conviction Appeal

DENVER (CN) ­– A man who pleaded guilty to threatening an Oklahoma judge and others appealed his sentence to the 10th Circuit on Tuesday, claiming his indictment did not consider all of the messages he sent to the Tulsa Police Department.

Jeffrey Stevens, of East Lyme, Connecticut, sent 10 messages to the Tulsa Police Department in September 2016 after a video of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby shooting and killing an unarmed black man on the side of the road went viral.

After Shelby was convicted of manslaughter, Stevens wrote, “You think this gets you off the hook? It was MURDER, not manslaughter. It was a [sic] execution. Betty is not going to get three years probation and a pension, she is getting a bullet through her brain.”

In the original indictment, prosecutors estimated that between Sept. 19 and Sept. 22, Stevens submitted 10 online citizen complaints to the Tulsa Police Department.

“The revolution starts now. The psycho cunt who never should have been given a badge, as well as all her cohorts who patted her on the back and said ‘Good Shot’ are going to be executed unless you put them behind bars on MURDER charges,” Stevens wrote on Sept. 12, according to the affidavit submitted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

“Additionally, unless the Prosecutor & the Judge deny bail, they too will be executed. America is NOT a Police State in which any mental defective owning a badge can murder at will. It’s time for America to make a stand and it will. Do the right thing or die. There are no other choices.”

This past April, Stevens pleaded guilty on the condition he would be allowed to appeal and was sentenced to a year in prison and a $500 fine. The court also recommended he receive access to mental health counseling.

Stevens had his day with the 10th Circuit on Tuesday, which focused on whether anyone felt truly threatened by the man’s messages.

“The only issue before this court is whether these statements, taken in context, convey a true threat,” Circuit Judge Scott Matheson Jr. summarized.

“There was no indication that when these people saw these messages that they deemed them threatening,” Federal Public Defender Barry Derryberry replied, adding that in addition to only considering five of Stevens’ 10 statements, victim impact statements should have been considered for context.

“Did the defense argue that particular counts deserve more protection than others, or was it a global attack on the indictment?” Circuit Judge Jerome Holmes asked.

“Global attack on the indictment,” Derrberry said. “And it gets into the context issue. One cannot single out one message, they have to take into account all of the statements.”

In response, U.S. Attorney Leena Alam agreed that context is vital to understanding the case: while the defense originally presented Stevens as an upset man making political statements, Alam said it should be noted his statements were made in the wake of similar threats that occurred after the July 2016 shooting deaths of five officers in Dallas.

Alam said any reasonable person who read Stevens’ messages would have considered them threats – regardless of whether they were being targeted or not.

“Don’t you get into a precarious position if you pick and choose what a reasonable person would know?” Holmes asked.

After Alam attempted to nail down what reasonable person know, Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich concluded the hearing with a chuckle, “I guess I’ll have to crack open my old philosophy books and look over the theory of knowledge on this.”

 

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