An Alamance County prosecutor has dismissed a riot charge Monday against a man who officials say posted “Let’s just blow the whole courthouse up” on Facebook last summer.
Assistant District Attorney Doug Green dismissed the charge of attempting to incite a riot against Thomas Lee Jeffries Jr., 25, of Graham.
The dismissal followed defense attorney Scott Holmes’ successful objection to allowing a Facebook screenshot into evidence.
“At this point, the motion or the objection is sustained,” District Court Judge Allen said.
“Then we move to dismiss the charges,” Green said.
Sometime Aug. 14 or 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, after demonstrators pulled down a Confederate statue in Durham on Aug. 14.
Jeffries 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 October interview, 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.
However, once the case went to trial Monday morning, Holmes never had to make the argument.
Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Sara Keller took the stand with a report and a printed-out screen shot of the Facebook post.
Keller said she took a screen shot using a snipping tool from her computer.
During questioning, he established that Keller wasn’t able to obtain the IP address linked to the Facebook post. He compared a computer’s IP address to a telephone number. The IP address links a post to a specific computer, but doesn’t show who was operating the computer at the time.
For the evidence to be considered, a prosecutor would need someone from Facebook to verify that the post is a business record, do research or get a search warrant to get IP addresses linked to the post, and connect the IP address to his client, Holmes said.
“Because they have done none of those things, those documents that the state purports are Facebook pages that are statements are inadmissible,” Holmes said.
Keller said she connected the defendant to the post by using photos of Jeffries found on the profile.
Green unsuccessfully argued the verification issue shouldn’t rule the post out, only help the judge decide how much weight to give it.