Concern is growing for a Texas teenager who has spent the last four months in jail after being arrested for making seemingly threatening comments on Facebook.
Justin Carter, 19, is currently being held under suicide watch in Comal County Jail near San Antonio, Texas, after being arrested in February following a Facebook argument with players of the online game "League of Legends," and responded to another participant calling him "crazy."
"I'm f---ed in the head alright. I think I'ma [sic] shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them," he wrote, following the comments with "LOL" (laughing out loud) and "J/K" (just kidding.)
Someone in a Texas police department either doesn't know or doesn't care about LOLs, and arrested the then-18 year-old on charges of making terrorist threats. A warrant was granted and police came looking for the sarcastic teen.
"I thought it was a joke," his father Jack Carter told CNN. "I couldn't believe the person that called me. I kept telling them they have to be kidding. When I realized he wasn't, I literally broke down crying."
If found guilty, young Carter faces a maximum of eight years in prison, and the judge in the case set his bail at $500,000, a sum his family have been unable to raise to get their son out of the slammer. His family says that the young man has been assaulted in jail multiple times, and is now being kept in isolation.
"He's very depressed," said his father. "He's very scared and he's very concerned that he's not going to get out. He's pretty much lost all hope."
An online petition set up by his family calling for a review of the case has reached over 90,000 signatures, but so far the Texas judiciary shows no sign of reconsidering its actions. Carter does at least now have a court date, July 16, but will still have spent nearly five months (and his 19th birthday) behind bars.
"We are all concerned about safety in our schools, but that's not what is at issue here," said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. "The First Amendment protects a person's speech – even speech that is in poor taste – as long as it is not a true threat.
"Justin's online comment might have been distasteful and thoughtless." Robertson said. "But, if the facts as reported are true, his comment is an objectionable joke rather than an actual threat, in which case the Comal County District Attorney is prosecuting protected speech. That's a dangerous precedent."
Cruel and unusual punishment anyone? ®