The Chicopee Police Department announced yesterday that they are seeking a criminal charge against 27-year-old Charles Dirosa over a Facebook post. According to a press release posted on the department's Facebook page:
Today, we had some of our followers, and Chicopee Citizens, alert us to a very disturbing Facebook Post. This post, was quite simply, "Put Wings on Pigs." After the events of the past few days, the PD took this threat very seriously. It was investigated by our Detective Bureau. The parties [sic] information was given out to area Police Departments, as well as the Mass State Police, for Officer Safety. We have identified the party as CHARLES DIROSA, from Chicopee. He will be summonsed to court for Threat to Commit a Crime.
Dirosa's Facebook post was likely a reference to an Instagram post by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the man who went on a shooting spree that included his girlfriend and two New York City police officers before committing suicide. Brinsley wrote on Instagram: “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours……Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMikeBrown.”
"In the eyes of every police officer in America today, 'Putting wings on pigs' is a threat," Michael Wilk, the Chicopee Police Department's spokesman, told The Republican.
While Dirosa's allusion to Brinsley's words may have unsettled some people, there does not appear to be any evidence that he actually threatened anyone.
"No clerk should issue a complaint for this," said Russell Matson, a criminal defense attorney who sometimes contributes to The Bay State Examiner. Matson said Dirosa's Facebook post was "so vague" that it does not qualify as a threat. In order to constitute a genuine threat, Matson said, a statement must be directed toward a specific person, must indicate intent to carry out the threat, and the victim must have a reasonable belief that the person has the ability to carry out the threat.
Matson said that if a non-specific statement like Dirosa's could be criminalized, any person who posted an inflammatory statement about police could be charged with one count of making a threat for every police officer in the country.
Matson said that even explicitly advocating violence against police officers, while not something he would recommend doing, is protected by the First Amendment.
The case is reminiscent of when Methuen police arrested Cameron D'Ambrosio last year after the teenager posted rap lyrics that referenced the Boston Marathon bombing on his Facebook page. Prosecutors attempted to convict D'Ambrosio of making "terroristic threats," but a grand jury refused to indict him. While D'Ambrosio was ultimately found to have done nothing illegal, he spent over a month in jail and was not able to attend the end of his senior year of high school.
While it's understandable that events like the Boston Marathon bombing and Ismaaiyl Brinsley's killing spree put police on edge, that does not and should not mean that making stupid Facebook posts is a crime.