School threats have been skyrocketing ever since the school shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida last month. So why are some of the people accused of making those false threats getting hit with felony charges – and others are not?
Between Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties at least 89 teens and adults have been charged with making school threats.
In Oakland and Macomb counties, so far everyone has been hit with a felony.
In Wayne County, it’s a different story: only 16 of the 28 people charged so far are facing felony threat of terrorism charges.
With school closures from false threats of violence becoming an almost daily occurrence, Metro Detroit’s top law enforcement officials aren’t messing around; neither are the judges.
After South Lyon High School student Ryan DeBruyne was charged with felony Making a Threat of Terrorism last month, 52-1 District Court Judge Travis Reeds gave him a $10 million bond.
But not all cases result in that felony charge or a multi-million dollar bond, and it’s not always easy to understand why.
On 26-year-old Logan Berger’s Facebook page, you can see the Southgate man posing with guns, wearing camouflage and musing about being Rambo. Berger has a second page under the name “Jack Ripings,” and within days of the Parkland tragedy, police say Berger publicly posted this statement: “I support mass shootings.”
He also later messaged a local woman from that Facebook account and made nasty comments about breastfeeding babies with his genitals.
“The defendant made statements in the investigators report of killing kids and eating kids,” said Probation Officer Ken Sciotti during Berger’s recent sentencing.
That prompted the woman to report Berger. This was his response: “That’s right lil [expletive] make me more famus before I shoot yo kids schooool.”
When Detroit police arrested him, they found spent casings, a bullet-proof vest, and more.
“The evidence found at the house had all kinds of weapons, hatchets, firearms, 9 mms. It had armor. I find that very disturbing,” said Sciotti.
Police say the handguns and rifle legally belonged to Berger’s roommate, and there was no indication the roommate was involved in the threats.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Berger with two misdemeanors: Using a Computer to Commit a Crime, and Malicious Use of a Telecommunications Device.
Berger pleaded guilty to the telecommunications device crime.
“What I did was wrong,” said Berger during his sentencing.
So why wasn’t he charged with the felony Making a False Report of Terrorism?
“The Berger case was carefully evaluated and it was determined by a committee of assistant prosecutors that the 20 year felony was not an appropriate charge under these facts.”
The reason? The complaining witness did not have school-age children and Berger did not own the guns that the police found. Miller says there was not enough evidence to prove the felony.
“As a prosecutor, I think I’d look at it and say let me get the best resolution I can and move forward in a case that really doesn’t implicate schools,” said Wayne State Law Professor Peter Henning, who’s a former federal prosecutor.
Henning says for the felony terrorism charge, the threat usually needs to impact government operations.
“It’s to get those situations where it’s not just a one on one threat but a threat to the broader community,” said Henning.
“I will accept whatever punishment is given to me. I apologize I won’t do this again,” said Berger in court.
“Do you understand the gravity of it,” asked 36th District Court Judge Roberta Archer.
“Yes,” said Berger.
Judge Archer sentenced Berger to two months in jail, with two years of intense monitoring on probation. She also ordered a psychological evaluation, mental health treatment, and Berger has to move back home with his parents where he won’t be able to be near any guns or use social media.
“The mere fact that you uttered those words is outrageous. And I want to make sure that you are not going to be part of this news cycle wherein people are actually harmed,” said Judge Archer. “We cannot look away when we have an individual that’s making these sorts of threats upon school children; upon anyone. But the fact that you’re uttering that you would kill children really puts everyone on edge. Because if you’re thinking about it and going as far as to utter it, we have no idea how real those words are to you… We are going to closely monitor you the best we can to ensure that you do not do any harm to anyone else.”
Here is more information from the Wayne County Prosecutor about the charging decision in this case:
We charge each [case] individually based upon the facts and evidence that we can prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no one size fits all charge for all cases.
The Berger case was carefully evaluated and it was determined by a committee of assistant prosecutors that the 20 year felony was not an appropriate charge under these facts. He pleaded guilty to: Malicious Use of Telecommunication Services (MCL 750.540E) 6 months.
The communication began as a group conversation regarding whether women should breast feed in public. The comments while disturbing were determined not to be a real threat under the statute. The complaining witness does not have school aged children, there was no evidence presented to support that [the] suspect believed she had school aged children. This evidence negates a true threat. In addition, the communication “I support mass shooting” was not communicated to anyone in particular, but a public post prior to this specific exchange. The defendant did not make an overt act to carry out the true threat.
If you have a story for Heather, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248-827-4473.