Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Facebook Threat Posts: Pebbles and Bam Bam

Every time someone goes on a shooting rampage the people who knew the assailant are either shocked and heartbroken (usually the assailant's parents) or they are not surprised at all. The people who weren't surprised only wonder why the assailant took so long to crack. These folks are often seen on television interviews smugly declaring they knew so-n-so wasn't right in the head, and never felt safe or at ease around him. Folks who fall into the second category are often the assailant's co-workers, spouse or significant other, or anyone else who is able to evaluate the person without looking through the rosy lens of motherhood or fatherhood. A challenge that we have in a supposedly free society is that we want to protect ourselves and everyone else from crime or violence without arresting and convicting people for what they might do. Our idea of justice normally includes the requirement that we only punish people for what they've done. There is a huge gray area/exception to this, obviously. Planning to perform a crime is usually a crime and something for which you can be arrested and charged. If you and your buddies get together every Thursday after work to plan your multi-million dollar bank robbery but are discovered and arrested, it's not much of a defense to say that sure you might have been planning multiple felonies but you never did them. But is talking junk on Facebook or other social media something which is or should be a crime? If I say someone gets on my nerves so much that I could kill them is that hyperbole or an actual threat? Your perception of that depends on your perception of the person making the statement. The average man or woman saying something like that probably doesn't mean it. But there are some people, either through mental instability or actual past criminal or violent history, who make statements like that and must be taken seriously. And there are other people, who while they may have no rap sheet or known psychological issues, say or do things which are so outrageous that they also must be closely watched if not arrested and charged. Former Washtenaw County mental health/disability worker Grady Floyd falls into that last category.
A deleted Facebook post likely saved a man who brought two handguns nicknamed "Pebbles and Bam-Bam" to his Washtenaw County job from facing any criminal charges, a police report shows. Detectives attempted to retrieve any evidence of a threatening post seen by many of Grady Floyd's co-workers at Washtenaw County Community Support and Treatment Services, but since Floyd deleted it, prosecutors declined to authorize charges.
Floyd admitted to police that he wrote a threatening post so colleagues would stop talking bad about him, according to the police report. He also admitted to changing his Facebook profile picture to one of him holding a shotgun and an AK-47 with a grenade launcher to intimidate co-workers. Floyd was in possession of two handguns when he was arrested the morning after his co-workers contacted authorities about the threatening Facebook post, the report says.These, he explained to detectives, were "Pebbles and Bam-Bam," not the long guns.
While prosecutors declined to authorize criminal charges, Floyd still lost his job, something he is contesting in recently filed lawsuits. Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office Det. Mark Neumann wrote in the police report that when he looked at the Facebook profile on Feb. 11, the picture was still up, but the message had been deleted.

Co-workers who saw it summarized it thusly, according to the report: "I'm just going to put it out to my so-called co-workers at CSTS. I am not putting up with this (expletive) (expletive) anymore. I am tired of people hating on me. I have two kids named pebbles and bam-bam who can deal it. I am going to shut you up permanently. Once they go off you are done, you are dead. You know you are. I do my (expletive) job. You haters need to leave me alone."
I can certainly sympathize with someone feeling put upon at their job, overlooked, demeaned, discriminated against, bullied or knowing that they just aren't a good fit. But I don't think it's too much to ask that people who have those feelings leave their job, find a way to deal with the issues, work with the appropriate authorities to resolve the problems, talk it out with mental health professionals or do any number of other things short of going on social media to threaten people. Floyd's threat reads depressingly like any number of other paranoid rantings by other workplace gunmen. I am surprised that the county prosecutor is so far not going to authorize charges but I'm more surprised that Floyd is suing to get his job back. To me Floyd's statement is the very definition of a hostile, unsafe workplace. Think of the worst boss, co-worker or direct report you ever had. And then think of them posting a death threat to you on Facebook. Would you want to come into work the next day? Or would you wake up the next morning and get yourself a gun? I don't see this as a free speech issue.

Should Mr. Floyd be prosecuted?

Should he get his job back?

What's the worst experience you ever had at work?

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