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April 19, 2013

District court judge tosses Facebook threat charges

Prosecutors may seek to appeal decision or reauthorize terrorist-threat allegations

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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A judge has dismissed threat-of-terrorism charges filed against Richard Walker, 18, of Warren, and Brandon Davis, 20, of Center Line. The men remained charged with resisting arrest and possessing an illegal short rifle.

WARREN — A district court judge has dismissed the most serious charges filed against two men for allegedly making terrorist threats against Warren police on Facebook.

Judge Matthew Sabaugh ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove Richard William Walker, 18, of Warren, and Brandon Davis, 20, of Center Line, actually posted violent statements directed at Warren police on their respective Facebook pages in January. 

As a result, the judge dismissed threat-of-terrorism charges, filed against both men, that carried a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

But Sabaugh ordered the men to stand trial for allegedly resisting arrest and possessing an illegally short rifle: charges punishable by a maximum of five years.

“All I can say is the truth came out finally,” said Davis’ father, Tony Scott, 42, of Center Line. “They had nothing on him.”

Scott said his son is “troubled” but that he is not a terrorist, mirroring comments made by Davis’ attorney, Warren McAlpine, during closing arguments spread over two days in April.

McAlpine and defense attorney Brian Selburn, representing Walker, had argued there was insufficient evidence to prove their clients authored statements police said were brought to their attention by an anonymous source in January.

Earlier this month, the attorneys questioned the court’s jurisdiction in the case and where the statements were made. They also refuted the validity of the weapons charge tied to a semiautomatic .22 caliber rifle reportedly seen in one of the Facebook posts and seized during a raid at Walker’s home on Ford in Warren.

Police said the gun, with its stock removed, was shorter that what is legally allowed. But Selburn argued that the stock could have been removed for storage, to clean the weapon or for some other useful purpose.

Warren police and Macomb prosecutors said Walker allegedly used Facebook to call for “tru soldiers” to “kill more cops,” and that Davis posted, “We really need more cop killers like for real,” sometime after Warren police towed Walker’s car, following a traffic stop in mid-January.

Images allegedly captured from their Facebook pages showed Walker and Davis posing with weapons and masks, along with expletives aimed at the police and a photo of Davis with the words “cop killer” on his arm. The words were still written in ink on his bicep when the men were arrested Jan. 18.

Police raided Walker’s home on Ford that day and reportedly recovered a cache of six guns, including semiautomatic rifles, a shotgun and a handgun, and about 200 rounds of ammunition.

Investigators also seized two cellphones and a computer, and later turned the devices over to forensic investigators with the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office.

The deputy who analyzed the electronics testified previously that several images of interest taken from one of the phones were captured by a device of that brand and model. However, data tied to the images couldn’t show with certainty whether the actual devices seized by police were used to take the photos.

The judge said the evidence was insufficient to show that the threat-of-terrorism charge and the original charge of using a computer to commit a crime were justified.

“There’s been no testimony that these alleged terrorist threats were made in the city of Warren, the county of Macomb or even the state of Michigan,” Sabaugh said. “There’s no testimony to show how the statements were made, whether it was by a computer or a Facebook application of a smartphone.”

But police and prosecutors said there was more evidence that the men had violent intentions, citing a recorded message on one of the seized phones that allegedly threatened the life of a witness in the case. They also said the men discussed plans to kill a police officer if the home was approached.

Assistant Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney Derek Miller argued that the totality of the evidence as submitted was adequate to show probable cause, but he was stopped short by the judge.

“Our office will determine whether we’re going to reauthorize or appeal the decision,” Miller said after the hearing. “The administration will review it.”

McAlpine told the court that his client was “no angel,” but that he was certainly not a terrorist bent on killing cops, despite what police and prosecutors said. 

“This young man was cowering in an attic behind boxes. All these weapons were in the home. You’d think if they were as dangerous as you make my client to be, there’d be a shootout at the corral,” McAlpine said. “They were frightened to death.”

Selburn added, “I think that it was courageous by the judge that he followed the law and didn’t succumb to the political climate that’s in the country right now.”

Sabaugh ordered bonds set at $50,000 for both Davis and Walker, who remained in custody April 18 on the alleged weapons violation and a charge of resisting arrest pending an arraignment hearing in Macomb County Circuit Court scheduled for 1:30 p.m. April 29.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.