ATLANTA — Attorneys from Hall County argued Monday before the Supreme Court of Georgia regarding an alleged terroristic threat referencing Columbine posted in 2014 on Facebook by a former Lanier Charter Career Academy student.
Devon Major was charged with terroristic threats after a post to get “the chopper out and make Columbine look childish.” A chopper is slang for a gun, and the 1999 Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colo., killed 13 people.
A school resource officer saw the post and informed the school’s principal.
To Major’s attorney Walker Rick, the post is a “statement of frustration” about overcrowding at the school. Before the mention of Columbine, the post includes the phrase “Lord, please save me.”
“It’s a plea for strength,” Rick said.
Rick argued the terroristic threat statute is vague, overbroad and violates Major’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.
“When a speaker knows his audience or anticipates his audience and knows that they will understand his statement to be taken in a certain way, this statute still captures statements that reach an unanticipated audience that assigns the statement an unanticipated meaning,” Major’s attorney said.
The meaning may be reasonable, Rick said, but it was not what Major intended.
In his argument, Rick said the state must prove the intent or knowledge of the statement being taken as a threat.
“What you’re asking the speaker to do is measure the possibility of a meaning that he doesn’t intend and might not understand being assigned to a statement by a listener he didn’t intend to reach,” he said.
Representing the Hall County District Attorney’s Office, Alicia Taylor argued the statement is a clear threat of violence. The government, Taylor said, has an interest in stopping mass hysteria, if teachers and parents would be concerned about their safety.
“The First Amendment does not protect true threats when the speaker means to communicate an unlawful act of violence toward a group or toward individuals,” she said.
A justice raised a question on whether the 1930s radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” which allegedly caused panic for some listeners, would be protected under the law.
“If the recipient perceived the threat to be one that was a threat of violence and was a direct true threat, then it would not be awarded protections under the First Amendment,” Taylor said.
The court will now decide the matter.