Local prosecutors are taking a harder line on threats made in the community, as a number of local cases have shown recently.
In the last week, Christopher Evans was charged with first-degree making a terrorist threat after he allegedly called Altec Industries in St. Joseph and mentioned a bomb threat as well as threatening to shoot those inside.
Evans is one of many who have been charged with making a terrorist threat in recent months. Other cases include those of Andrew Lemon, who was convicted in Andrew County after making a threat on SnapChat to shoot students at several schools, and Jordan Millard, who has pleaded guilty to threatening to shoot patrons of Applebee’s.
Though he was unable to speak specifically on any particular case, assistant prosecutor Joshua Bachman said that there are specific things prosecutors look for when filing this charge.
“The difference between a terrorist threat and something like disturbing the peace is the shutting down a building, structure or gathering place,” Bachman said. “The legislature has given us a pretty good statute here that lets us address these situations.”
According to Bachman, there are different degrees for which someone can be charged with making a terrorist threat. The first-degree charge usually involves someone intentionally causing fear for a large number of people, such as a situation when a building is put on lockdown.
The lesser degrees of the charge revolve more around reckless behavior that has the same result.
“Obviously, you make a poor choice. You’re waving a gun around outside of the school,” Bachman said, as an example. “You know, that could definitely cause alarm, and it’s certainly reckless disregard for the likelihood that you’re going to frighten people, that you’re going to cause that business or that school to shut down or to have to be quarantined or maybe evacuated.”
While in previous decades this behavior may have been dismissed as teens making jokes or dumb decisions or domestic situations creeping into the workplace, in 2019, threats are being taken more seriously.
“I certainly think in our current age, we are much more educated on the consequences of that with mental health and what can actually happen, and unfortunately, because we see it so often in other communities, that I think for the better we are much more vigilant in taking those threats seriously and making sure that our communities stay safe,” Bachman said.
Bachman said as a prosecutor he is aware of the attention the charge of making a terrorist threat gets and that to the public it sounds very serious. But it is serious to the community, he said.
“You’re certainly aware it will draw attention, but on the flip side, it’s our job to help keep communities safe in conjunction with law enforcement,” Bachman said. “We review those, and if it draws attention, it draws attention. In fact, it might make it more apparent to those who think, ‘Hey, this could be a funny joke, or it’s not going to be that big of a deal.’ No, our community takes it seriously. If you do that, it can end up in criminal charges.”