Circuit Court Judge Chris France today found a 17-year-old former Flagler Palm Coast High School student guilty of threatening to kill her teacher through written messages to a fellow-student a year ago. The girl was tried on Dec. 6.
The girl has not been sentenced. That’s pending a so-called pre-disposition report by the Department of Juvenile Justice. A juvenile facing such a charge is generally sentenced to probation and/or counseling, but because of the greater attention, the racial undertone and the political ramifications of the case, her sentence could differ.
The case drew broad attention because of the shocking, racist and violent language the girl and the boy, both white, used to describe the black teacher, Kimberly Lee, as they exchanged written messages through a messaging app during class. The messages were their plan to kill the teacher at her house, and included repeatedly degrading descriptions of the teacher and at times sadistic descriptions of their acts.
The girl claimed the whole exchange was a joke as neither she nor her friend knew where the teacher lived–and as certain things they said clearly pointed to the absurdity of their plan (“wear neon yellow with flashing lights. No one will ever see us.” “Okay bet I have a yellow long sleeve So we are all set.”) But the messages also included repeated boasts that the two students would murder the teacher and that the murder would be a favor to society. The language and the acts described were indistinguishable from a planned lynching.
France convicted the girl not only of making written threats to kill, but on the prosecution’s amended charging information, “adding an alternative method of proof for making, posting or transmitting a threat to conduct an act of Terrorism,” according to his order.
“We respect the court’s decision,” Josh Davis, who represented the girl, said. “We of course disagree with the findings and we will be appealing to the Fifth DCA,” the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, “not only because of the ramifications for this child and this act, but for hopefully the children in the future who fall underneath such a broad statute, and such a big law, to hopefully get a little better definition, hopefully to get something a little more definitive instead of the broad statute that we have right now.”
Assistant State Prosecutor Jason Lewis, who prosecuted the case, was not immediately prepared to comment on the case in late morning.
Lewis included two theories provided in the statute of proving the girl violated that law. Under that section of law, the crime can be proven if an individual sends a written threats to kill or through the sending of a terroristic threat. “Under the written threat to kill, the actual threat needs to be send to the ‘victim of the threat or their family member,'” France wrote, largely following the wording of a proposed order written by Lewis. “Under sending a terroristic threat, the threat does not have be sent to the victim or to their family member, but needs to be posted or sent where any person can view it. The State proceeded to trial under both theories.”
Since Lee could and did monitor students’ computer activity during class, since the messages were written during class, and since the students were aware they were being monitored, France found the written threats to have been sent directly to Lee, proving the first prong of the law. He found that the writing also “contained a threat to conduct an act of terrorism,” defining terrorism as state law does–as “a violent act or an act dangerous to human life which is a violation of the criminal laws of this state or of the United States.”
France acknowledged that Davis “argued that the Court ought not go down the slippery slope of calling the Juvenile’s rants a terrorist act akin to acts of international terrorism.” But he did not address the slippery slope argument beyond deferring to the law’s definition, which Davis had called “overly broad.”
In what is likely to stand out as one of the more remarkable–and questionable–lines in the order, France then essentially concluded that any act of murder is an act of terrorism–which, of course, courts generally have almost never found to be the case: “The act of murdering someone would fall under this definition by the legislature,” France wrote.
“As the statute is now written, any violent act that is a violation of Florida state law or United States federal law can be considered an act of terrorism,” Davis said. “As I said in closing, we might be shutting down our schools and putting all of our children behind bars if any act of violence could be considered an act of terrorism. It means that any school fight, any road rage incident, any threat about anything, now all of a sudden we’re going to be classifying that as terrorism, and that leads us down a very slippery slope to where basically we can be called a terrorist and be classified as such and be prosecuted as such for any violent act.”
Davis said he doesn’t “believe it’s going to survive,” referring to the law, which the Legislature amended in 2018 to add the wording about terrorism, following the Parkland high school massacre in South Florida. “Even a first degree murder,” Davis continued. “Of course it’s against the law and a person can be put to death for that but does that make the person a terrorist. Those are two widely different things, and I think we need clarification on that. Just because you can be prosecuted for breaking one part of the law doesn’t automatically make you a terrorist, and this statute the way it’s written, that’s exactly what it does.”
The other student in the case was also charged, but he left the country. The case quickly drew the attention of the NAACP, initially because the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office had been reluctant to charge the girl either with a hate crime or a written threat to kill. In the end, it had done neither: it had charged the two students with assault charges. The State Attorney’s Office then charged them with written threats to kill, a second-degree felony, but did not charge them as adults, and did not add the hate-crime component.
“This case has been political from the very beginning,” Davis said, “and the law is not absent from politics. In fact that’s how a lot of the times law is interpreted. It’s through the eyes of what’s going on in society right now, and I believe the racial undertones of this case and all of the different agencies that were involved played a significant factor in the ultimate outcome of this, and I think to argue differently is disingenuous, to put it mildly.”
He said the case is “100 percent going to be appealed,” though he won’t be conducting the appeal.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, whose agency has made about a dozen arrests since the Parkland massacre on similar charges, and investigated many more cases of threats, saw the decision as a reminder of a message he’s been imparting on parents since then: “I support the judge’s decision,” he said. “We take these cases very seriously. Parents must talk to their children about what is acceptable behavior and language so they’re not criminally charged. After the Stoneman Douglas shooting, Florida has passed laws that are clearly black and white, and with no area for gray. You cannot tell us you were joking, then consider that an affirmative defense. There’s a certain behavior and comments that are not allowed in today’s society, and the sooner our kids understand that and parents talk to them, the better for everybody.”
Staly sees the amended 2018 law as an additional tool to keep the community safe, and noted that the law was amended at the same time that other laws increased the availability of psychologists, counseling and mental-health supports in schools. “The Legislature makes the laws. It’s our jobs to enforce the laws and the state to prosecute,” he said, when asked about the severity of the law. Any change would have to come from the Legislature, he said. “I think the fear is to have a kid like Cruz in South Florida that was given many, many, many opportunities and was never dealt with thoroughly, then maybe that massacre could have been prevented. So I don’t know the true legislative intent because I’m not a legislator, but I think the intent was to make sure kids don’t fall through the loopholes or are given so many breaks that they’re not learning the lesson.
“In my mind,” he continued, “this really goes back to parenting in the very beginning. Parents need to be a sheriff in their home before we have to be a sheriff of their kid, and unfortunately so many parents today want to be their child’s friend and not the parent. There’s a delineator between the two. It’s always good to be friendly with your child, but don’t forget your role as a parent.” He recalled the case of the two students who got into an argument over NFL teams earlier this month–then one of them ended up facing that same charge of making written threats. “Unfortunately this is a microcosm I guess of what the American culture has evolved into, and it’s not good. When I was a kid growing up, if I were to use some of the language these kids are using and how they’re treating their peers, my mother would have washed my mouth out with soap. And today some parts of our culture would say that would be child abuse. I don’t think so. I think you have a right to discipline your children. You just can’t go overboard.”
Aaron Delgado, an attorney at Daytona Beach’s Delgado and Romanick law firm who’s handled numerous cases–adults and children–involving threats, says the law has gone too far in the direction of legislating speech and thought. “The idea of imposing strict liability like that on speech is just anathema to me,” Delgado said, questioning the constitutionality of the law. He cited the case of Florida rapper Christopher Maurice McCallum, who was arrested in April and charged of threatening a mass shooting after one of his lyrics promised to “catch you at a Gator game and shoot the whole campus up.” The charge was dropped in September, but only as part of a plea to a lesser charge of resisting.
“To me this is pretty much getting into thought crime, and when you deal with the thought crimes of children who are definitely immature and impaired when it comes to making rational choices, it seems tremendously unfair. It’s a bad law, bad statute, from top to bottom,” Delgado said. “I feel like there has to be a constitutional challenge there somewhere.”
Delgado points to a recent U.S. Supreme Court case that may inform the constitutionality of convictions under the written-threat-to-kill law–a 2015 decision, by an 8-1 vote, that found that any such conviction requires proof of the defendant’s intent to threaten. “An objective reasonable person standard does not go far enough to separate innocent, accidental conduct from purposeful, wrongful acts,” the court-case database site Oyez summarizes, “The Court held that, in this case, an objective standard would risk punishing an innocent actor because the crucial element that makes this behavior criminal is the threat, not merely the posting.”
Delgado last year defended a student who was found to have a “kill list” the student had carried in a back-pack for about a year. The student was charged under the same law that got the FPC girl charged, but as in most such cases he’s handled, Delgado said the student got a deferred prosecution agreement: as long as the student behaves for a set period of time, the charges are then dropped.
The law as written, he said, reflects legislation from a place of fear. “In the goal of combating crime we’re going to erode the very freedom that make us so unique,” he said.
A couple of years in prison would do this student some good and would bring justice and peace of mind to our small community that was rocked by this act of hate and terrorism.
The Realist says
Although this was a terrible thing that these children did and I do sympathize with what this teacher went through. I find it hard to believe Dave, that it rocked you world. If that’s the case you should probably stay indoors. It’s a big scary world out there. The fact you would like to put a 17 year old girl in prison for two years just floors me. I hate to burst your bubble but that will never happen. She is a minor and will be judged as such.
But if it was a black student and white teacher the student would be regarded as a “thug” and the courts would have to get him off the streets before he/she threatens again. This whole county is a joke
Prison? For some words?
William Carter says
Yes. Hate speech is hate speech. The threats were heinous and far beyond, just joking”.
Concerned Citizen says
So one student will be held accountable and made an example of. And the other is a fugitive from justice. Sounds about right for Flagler County’s Judicial process. I wonder if there was any indication that the other perpatrator was flight risk. Did they not explain bond conditions to the boy? And if so then his parents are an accessory for allowing him to leave.
Hopefully this young girl will be sentenced accordingly. She knew exactly what she was doing. And in the process caused great harm and emotional distress to her victim.
I’ve seen most comments defending this girl on some form or another and not many standing up for the teacher. Everyone wants to point fingers elsewhere when it’s these 2 students that caused all of this.
Maybe students everywhere will realize that threats of violence will not be tolerated in our schools. That it’s not cool or a joking matter to try and hurt someone. And that when they get caught there will be swift consequences for it.
Ernest T. Bass says
Two words……… HOME SCHOOL
Willy Boy says
Lance Carroll says
Would the result be the same if a black student made the same threat? HMMMM
William Carter says
Unless and until you understand the dynamics of racism, and cultural dominance you will not get past the “what ifs”. It is simple to think that similar things will always be handled “similarly”, but the differences between any two situations (the real one and your “what if” scenario) has to take into consideration ALL factors, and, undoubtedly your “what if” question does not. This world is far more complicated than that.
Pierre did say the Law was flawed and hard to enforce due to the nature of the language in it. Broad definition of Terrorism interpreted by judge. I find that surprising. No sentencing yet, damn sure enough an Appeal though. Any way the wheels of Justice slowly grind away while the victim is still the one left out . SAD
Hahahhahahaha but the European Village shooter was not considered a terrorist for trying to shoot a bunch of people in May of 2014. Use the European Village shooter from 2014 as a defense for this little girl who didn’t know any better. I guess if the terrorist is a Middle Aged American Born White man it is always blamed on mental illness and is not considered terrorism. This is the good ole boy justice system of palm coast hard at work. This is total BS and you all know it. Total hypocrisy and corruption.
This domestic terrorist pos only got probation for committing a pre meditated action of terror, fired several shots, stabbed a Veteran in the face, scarred everyone involved for life, and then got off scottfree. If you really try and convict this little girl you’ll literally melt your own igloo of corruption.
FPC Granny says
OMG! Is this judge kidding me…(google this judges history online) This case went from the Sheriff’s Department not charging this girl to now being an act of terrorism! We have no idea where the boy is in this case is!! This is an act of racism!
ONLY until the NAACP got involved did the charges move there way up the scale! (NAACP which stands for National Association for the Advancement of “COLORED” people) now is that racist for me to say “colored people”?? (years ago in my school-age the term now used as racist was very acceptable by the masses- OK times have changed) Where is a National Association for “white ” people when injustice is done in our society?? (I AM NOT talking about white supremacy.) I am talking about a National Association that fights for the “constitutional rights” for white injustice? (as in this case) I just don’t get it (sorry)….there can be all black colleges but it is a racest crime if there is an all-white college or for a black Spring Break vs an all Spring Break or for an all Bike Week vs a Black Bike Week or black scholarships only for blacks vs scholarship for all students etc.
Maybe what the kids said was inappropriate (wrong-whatever) but because these kids are “white” this idiot judge is going to make an example of this teenager by calling her a terrorist and judging her guilty as such (by miss reading the law)??? Many, many black teenagers call and text other black teenagers (even adults) or even other white teenager’s certain names that “white” teenagers are forbidden to say/text and now they are “terrorist crimes” for white teenagers to say!! I have heard with “my own ears” these communications between teenagers. Just stand in the corridor of FPC yourself at class change or before school starts if you think that is not so. No teacher dares to get involved themselves in those issues, they just walk on past and make like they haven’t heard a thing (the same thing goes for bullying the teachers walk right on past)!! That language is tossed around along with what black teenagers are calling white teenagers, without repercussion! Now that is racist!!
Personally (JMO) I don’t think this teacher was right for the job. At least not working in a public high school. How many teachers/staff are there in Flagler’s public high school system? None of them have ever voiced “racest terrorist” threats from students to the degree of filing “felony terrorist charges”? I would assume “Social Sentenial” has picked up much of the black teenage messages but does not address them. Believe me, this is not the only teenager to message “PRIVATE” using such language!! So the idea of being a terrorist threat is wrong because this was a “PRIVATE” message application NOT written TO the teacher (law 101) I am NOT saying it is right!!! What I am saying is what is fair for one should be fair for another doing the same thing. Now, again, nobody has seen or heard about this boy, matter a fact his name has not even been leaked out as was the girl’s name was. Who does he know to keep him from facing this so-called justice??
William Awdry says
Granny, you need to focus. This ruling was about what this 17 year old young woman did. It’s not about you. It’s not about the Judge’s previous rulings. It’s not about the young man that this young woman was communicating with. It’s not about what many black teenagers say or do.
Perhaps this young woman should have plead ‘stupid’ because as most young people who use communications today know there is no such thing as ‘PRIVATE’ communications. Maybe this young woman is just stupid and even though she was able to use a smartphone she couldn’t understand how it actually works. Or maybe she lived in a cave and never read about “PRIVATE’ messages showing up in civil and criminal courts. She should watch Judge Judy once in a while.
What was really special was your assessment of the teacher. Why not blame the victim?
And I’m confident that after reading your rant I’m not the only one who thinks that Granny is a good old racist. Congratulations!
William Carter says
Your screed is a sad and antiquated commentary. You are right about one thing: you just don’t understand. If you are asking, at this stage in your life why there are Black colleges and why the NAACP was founded, you probably need to turn off your TV and pick up a book. Although you are a “granny” I am probably older than you and I remember when TV, public places and other prominent sectors of our society were all segregated. Ethnically geared organizations were started so that non-whites could participate in the great American system just like Whites. How in the heck did you go from this court case into unloading your barrelful of bigoted thoughts on us?
Liz The Whiz says
Hate crime. This girl is a danger to society. Lock her up.
The sentencing should be interesting. I hope it will handled in such a way that this young woman’s mind-set does not become even more filled with hate…hate that might translate into further action.
Shauntiana mom says
Yes now let not give her a slap on the hand
Art Friedman says
There are two possible victims here. One might be the teacher, but I doubt it. The other is definitely the student who is the victim of reverse racism. There was no thought by Flagler authorities that a crime had been committed until the NAACP pressured Flagler officials. The girl is white the teacher is black, but you knew that when I mentioned the NAACP. None of this would have happened if the student was black or the teacher was white. And that is a fact. Judges are elected. Keep him in mind for the next election. Either he can’t properly interpret the law or was bullied by the NAACP. Either way a new judge is needed. No – I don’t defend the student’s actions, but I do defend her right to free speech. She made no threat or ACT of terrorism, yet was convicted under both statutes. That is wrong – as wrong as her actions were. My Momma always said two wrongs don’t make a right. In a court of law, emotion should stay out and only consideration under the law. That did not happen here. It will be appealed and it will be reversed. But the suffering of the girl will never be overcome. This should have been dealt with in the principal’s office – not in our court system. And racism has no place in our schools OR our court system.
William Carter says
If a crime is committed, as defined by law and the authorities do not label it as such it is your right and your duty as an organization to “pressure” the authorities to reconsider their initial findings. My Momma told me that bigotry and racism will try to justify itself at every turn. All too often First Amendment lovers overlook the items listed as “Non-protected speech”. Included in that list is speech that incites imminent lawless action. You don’t have to wait for an action to occur in order to be charged.
I think it might be time to remind everyone that threatening to kill another person IS a crime and must always be taken seriously.
First, I can understand the teacher being very scared, but with the girl taken into custody right away, this should have mitigated her anxieties. Do we need to know she bought a gun? I don’t think so.
And to say the girl is a terrorist is absolutely incorrect. A terrorist is one who shows violence with political offshoots. So, all violence is terroristic? Since when? I can almost see this case going to the Supreme Court because of the state’s definition of terrorism. This case should be interesting to follow.
It would probably do good for this girl to do community service where she could learn something about human kindness than being in jail at this age.
Delgado got one thing right, FEAR governs (makes laws) and controls people. Don’t believe me, then read all the comments. It is truly sad, most are spineless unless they are hiding behind keys and a screen.
People need to wake up and find their backbone and stop letting everyone else run your lives.
This case is a joke just like the statue and the politicians who wrote it.
I hope this girl gets vindicated and her life back with the appeal.
Wake up people. Stop living in FEAR!
If we didn’t have racists threatening to kill the ones we put in charge to teach our children it would be easier not be fearful, but this student is definitely a threat to our society and community. We need less people like her in the world.
Prison time would do her some good