Full Sail Student Arrested for Mass Shooting Threat to LGBTQ Community

January 9, 2023 Criminal Defense, Juvenile Offenses, Violent Crimes

Making a threat of a mass shooting—even if it is considered a joke—can result in serious state and federal criminal charges. A young man from Winter Park has recently been arrested after posting a false mass shooting threat online, resulting in federal charges.

This article will provide information on the recent case, along with information on state and federal charges for threatening to conduct a mass shooting.

Case Details

Winter Park local Sean Michael Albert, 19, was arrested on January 3rd, 2023, for posting a hoax mass shooting threat online. According to the report, the FBI received a tip in December about a mass shooting threat made on Discord—the popular messaging and social media platform.

The post included an image of an AR-15 and the comment, “At 13:00 December 17th, 2022, 100 [expletive] will die, cya there!” The address in the post matched Florida State University’s campus.

FSU’s Police Department was notified about the potential threat, causing the campus to increase its patrol presence even after the university closed for winter break.

The same day the threat was posted, Albert flew from Orlando to Washington D.C. for the holidays. When he returned to Orlando International Airport on January 1st, he was approached by investigators. Albert was arrested on the federal charge of making an interstate communication to threaten to injure another person.

When he was questioned about why the FBI would be interviewing him, Albert listed several other possible reasons (none involving illegal activity) before finally stating it was probably because he “made a post online that may be perceived as a mass shooting threat.”

Albert told the FBI that the post was meant as a joke. “Albert was asked to explain his mindset when he posted the threat and whether he understood that posting that type of content is in violation of federal law,” the complaint said. “Albert responded that he did not believe his post was illegal, stating that the post was meant to be ‘ironic,’ ‘satirical’ and ‘a joke.’”

The FBI questioned why Albert chose FSU as the location of the hoax threat, and he claimed that it was what he thought would get the biggest reaction on the Discord server. Despite the defendant’s claim that the post was a joke, an interview with his roommates and apartment manager revealed that Albert had a pattern of concerning behavior.

“In particular it is assessed that Albert has rapidly progressed from making controversial statements online, to confrontation with classmates and peers in online spaces, as well as direct confrontation with people outside of his university,” the complaint stated.

During the hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Embry Kidd ordered Albert to be detained until trial.

Mass Shooting Threats in Florida

The Florida Statute on written or electronic threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism is codified under section 836.10. Under the section, an “electronic record” is defined as any created record that has been modified, archived, received, or distributed electronically which contains the text, graphics, video, audio, or pictorially represented in digital form—excluding a telephone call.

It is unlawful for any individual to send, post, transmit, or procure a post or written record in any manner where that person threatens to:

  • Cause bodily harm or kill another person; or
  • Conduct an act of terrorism or a mass shooting.

A person accused of violating the above law can be charged with a second-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a second-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years of imprisonment.

Hate Crime Enhancements in Florida

When an individual is accused of a criminal offense that involves a hate crime towards a specific group of people, they could face enhanced penalties.

Under Florida Statute section 775.085, any felony or misdemeanor penalty will be reclassified if the commission of such misdemeanor or felony shows evidence of prejudice based on any of the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Ethnicity
  • Ancestry
  • Religion
  • Sexual Orientation
  • National Origin
  • Homeless Status (Victim lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate residence)
  • Advanced Age (Victim is older than 65-years-old)

The reclassification would make the penalty one degree higher than the initial charge. For example, a second-degree misdemeanor would be reclassified to a first-degree misdemeanor, and a third-degree felony would be reclassified as a second-degree felony, and so on.

One essential element of the hate crime enhancement is that the record must reflect that the defendant had the knowledge or reasonable grounds to know or perceive that the victim was within the class described in the above section.

Finally, the legislation included a provision that entitles a person or organization who was coerced, intimidated, or threatened in violation of this section to pursue a civil action for treble damages, an injunction, or any other appropriate relief. The law even allows the victims to recover attorney fees and costs once they prevail.

Federal Mass Shooting Threats

Federal mass shooting charges are codified under 18 U.S. Code § 2332a titled Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. To be charged with this federal offense, the individual must use, threaten to use, or attempts or conspires to use a weapon of mass destruction against any person or property in the U.S., and:

  1. Such property is used in interstate or foreign commerce or in an activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce;
  2. Any perpetrator travels in or causes another to travel in interstate or foreign commerce in furtherance of the offense;
  3. The mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce is used in the furtherance of the offense; or
  4. The offense, or the results of the offense, affects interstate or foreign commerce, or in the case of a threat, attempt, or conspiracy, would have affected interstate or foreign commerce.

The penalty for this federal charge shall be imprisonment for any term of years or life. If the offense results in the death of another person, the defendant shall be sentenced to life in prison or punished by death.

Federal law defines a “weapon of mass destruction” as (1) any destructive device as defined under section 921, (2) any weapon that has been designed to cause serious bodily injury or death to another person(s) by the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, (3) any weapon involving biological toxins, or (4) any weapon designed to release radiation at a level dangerous to human life. 

FBI’s Warning of Hoax Threats

In a 2018 article, the FBI discussed the increasingly popular trend of hoax threats to schools and other public places. The FBI warned that these types of threats—which are typically posted through text messages or social media—have serious consequences.

It is a federal crime to issue a threat through interstate communications—even if it was over social media, text messages, or email. Individuals who post or send these types of threats can face extensive consequences, such as up to five years of federal imprisonment, expensive fines, and state or local criminal charges.

There is also the issue of the societal cost of a mass destruction threat, as the FBI mentions that responding to hoax threats diverts officers, causes severe emotional distress to the victims, and costs taxpayers. When a young person posts a threat as a “thoughtless remark” or a joke on social media, it has the potential to alter their future—leading to starting their adult life in prison and holding a felony conviction on their record.

The following is a list of example cases of serious threats the FBI has investigated:

  • Kentucky – Two men created a fake social media account in someone else’s name to make hoax threats against a local public school. The 18-year-old was sentenced to 21 months in prison and the 19-year-old was sentenced to 27 months in prison.
  • Texas – A 19-year-old used social media to pose a hoax threat against schools in Minnesota, along with several instances of “swatting”—fake hostage situations. After getting arrested and pleading guilty, he was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
  • South Carolina – A 21-year-old sent text messages about a hoax bomb threat in a Veteran Affairs Medical Center parking lot and was sentenced to one year in federal prison.
  • North Carolina – An 18-year-old was arrested after calling in multiple bomb threats to public places including schools, colleges, and FBI offices. He was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison and was also required to pay restitution.

The following is a statement from FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich:

“The Bureau and its law enforcement partners take each threat seriously. We investigate and fully analyze each threat to determine its credibility. Hoax threats disrupt schools, waste limited law enforcement resources, and put first responders in unnecessary danger. We also don’t want to see a young person start out adulthood with a felony record over an impulsive social media post. It’s not a joke; always think before you post.”

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Threats of mass shootings or mass destruction are heavily prosecuted under both state and federal law. Even if someone posts a hoax mass shooting threat as a joke, it can result in lengthy imprisonment and fines. If you or someone you know has been accused of threatening a mass shooting or mass destruction, it is imperative that you seek out legal guidance as soon as possible.

Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience representing clients of all ages and walks of life in Florida. Our Tallahassee criminal defense attorneys will work to build a strong defense for your case, and fight to ensure your future. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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