Methuen Police arrested Cameron D’Ambrosio, a high school student who has been in trouble with the law in the past, was arrested May 1st for lyrics posted to his Facebook page and charged with making “Terroristic Threats ch269, s14” for the following lyrics:
I’m not in reality,
So when u see me (expletive) go insane and make the news,
the paper, and the (expletive) federal house of horror known as the white house,
Don’t (expletive) cry or be worried because all YOU people (expletive) caused this (expletive). “
(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do,
I’ma be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!
Obviously, this was just after the tragedy of the Boston Bombing. Just as obviously, this person is full of hate and angst and devoid of taste. But that describes most teenage boys. He has the right to write these things. The question is, whether this writing violated the statute he was charged with.
In order to be charged under these kind of statutes and remain Constitutional, threats must be “true threats.” “I will kill you with a knife” to your next door neighbor will get you convicted. Saying “I will bomb the United States with an ICBM” will not.
The Methuen Police issued a press release that shows a lack of understanding of this concept:
Methuen High School Student Arrested!!!
PRESS RELEASE FROM SUPERINTENDENT SCANNELL AND CHIEF SOLOMON!!!
Today, Tuesday, May 1, 2013, at approximately 12:20, Methuen High School students reported to administration that they had received a Facebook phone message sent by a Methuen High School student with disturbing verbiage. The student made terrorist threats. These threats were in general and not directed towards another person or the school. The administration acted quickly, contacted school service officer Jim Mellor, who then contacted the police department. The student was not in school but has since been located and placed under arrest. Administration working hand in hand with the Methuen Police Department, diffused the situation maintaining the best possible professional attitude. Methuen Public Schools as well as the Methuen Police Department has zero tolerance for this behavior. We believe that all students deserve to learn in a welcoming, non threatening environment free from intimidation and physical threats.
Chief Solomon reports that the student under arrest has been identified as Cameron B. Dambrosio, 18, of Methuen. He has been charged with Terroristic Threats ch269, s14 which is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in state prison. Methuen Detectives continue to work on this case, gathering any and all information that they can. At this time, a search warrant is being executed at the students home to gather evidence in regards to this incident. (Emphasis mine. Name misspelled in press release.)
I think the filmmakers of White House Down are lucky they don’t live in Methuen, because they actually blow up the White House in the film, not just talk about it in bad lyrics.
So, now that the kid is arrested, his house searched, and a determination made that he has no ability to carry out these threats, what do the police and the prosecutors do? They convince a judge to hold him without bail. For a month. They then bring the evidence to a grand jury.
There is a famous saying that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich through a grand jury. The reason is that the prosecution controls all of the evidence that is presented to the grand jury, so they can present the strongest evidence, and leave out any exculpatory evidence.
So, what did the grand jury do with the evidence? They refused to indict Mr. D’Ambrosia. What does this say about the police arrest? That the arrest was a severe overreaction. Should these lyrics have been investigated? Absolutely. Should the police and administration kept an eye on this student? Absolutely. Should they have searched his home? Absolutely, presuming they had a warrant. Should they have kept him in jail for a month when they knew he had no ability to carry out anything he alluded to in his lyrics? Nope. I do want to be clear in this. This student was a troublemaker and he had previously been in trouble for threatening his sister. I am not making excuses for the student, and if he was mine, he would be dealing with me, and I would not tolerate his behavior. But I will not excuse the police and the prosecutors whose actions are much worse.
This all started with a zero tolerance policy. The problem with zero tolerance, is it takes any reason out of these situations. It is why elementary students who chew pizza into the shape of a gun are suspended, and how we criminalize protected behavior. We do not arrest people for future crimes a la Minority Report, and we expect our police and prosecutors to use reason and restraint when charging people. We have to accept that we will never have a society perfectly free from dangers like these. We can’t let horrible acts like 9/11 or the Boston Bombing make us forget that. I leave you with two quotes from Benjamin Franklin:
Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.