The attorney for a Graham man accused of posting “Let’s just blow the whole courthouse up” on Facebook says the charges he faces of attempting to incite a riot leave out crucial aspects in the case: three laughing emojis.
“The omission of the laughing emojis (in the arrest warrant) remove critical aspects of the communication which bring the statement clearly within the protections of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” attorney Scott Holmes wrote in a letter to Alamance County Assistant District Attorney Doug Green.
Sometime between Aug. 14 and Aug. 15, someone using the name Cartel Occaneechi Jeffries posted “Let’s just blow the whole courthouse up” with three laughing emojis as a comment on a Facebook thread. The thread started with someone else posting “Let’s pull the Confederate statue down in Graham.”
Activists in Durham pulled a Confederate statue down on the evening of Aug. 14.
Thomas Lee Jeffries Jr, 25, of Graham was arrested Aug. 25 and charged with attempting to incite a riot after the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office said he attempted to “incite others to engage in a riot by assembling with two or more others to engage in a public disturbance by suggesting that they blow up the whole courthouse.”
In an intervew, Holmes said the Facebook post, regardless of who posted it, was protected under the U.S. Constitution as free speech because there was no imminent threat.
“But when you add the three laughing emojis behind that statement, which indicate that it is a joke or it is satirical or funny, the meaning is no longer threatening at all,” Holmes said.
Green declined to comment on those statements saying those are issues for a judge or jury to decide.
Holmes’ letter also noted Jeffries was arrested on the same charge more than a month after he was released on $20,000 bail.
On Sept. 23, Jeffries called for law enforcement assistance after discovering someone had broken into his car, the letter states. An officer from the Greensboro Police Department responded and ended up arresting Jeffries on an active warrant for his attempted incitement charge.
“Apparently, Alamance County never cleared the warrant after serving it last month resulting in an unlawful arrest,” Holmes’ letter states. “The resulting humiliation and distress heaped on Mr. Jeffries, not to mention the infringement on his liberty, are of grave concern to us.”
Kirk Puckett, a spokesman for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, said the Sheriff’s Office is investigating what happened.
The (Burlington) Times-News reported that Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said at an Aug. 25 press conference following Jeffries’ arrest that sheriff’s officers aren’t taking a stand on the Confederate monument debate.
“We will have zero tolerance against any crime here in Alamance County, regardless of where it is, surrounding the Confederate monument or anything else,” Johnson said. “This is a very serious business when you are talking about blowing a county courthouse up. We do not take this lightly, we will not take this lightly, and we will not stand back if you choose to try to attack property and live in Alamance County.”