Judge Releases Four Middle School Students Jailed for Alleged Threats on TikTok

March 1, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Social Media, Violent Crimes

Two weeks after several middle school students were arrested for making mass shooting depictions on TikTok, a Manatee County judge has determined there is no probable cause to continue detaining the preteens. However, they are potentially facing felony charges for written or online threats of mass shootings.

This page will provide details from the case, along with information pertaining to charges for making threats of a mass shooting online.

What was the Incident?

Several students from Parrish Community High School in Manatee County were arrested after posting TikTok videos that depicted a fake mass shooting on campus. In total, four students were arrested in relation to the video. According to the report, the video posted to social media showed them pretending to shoot at schoolmates with a virtual gun from TikTok’s filters.

The students arrested were charged with making electronic or written threats to kill, do bodily harm, or conduct a mass shooting. The videos took place on a Tuesday when the school had been evacuated due to an anonymous bomb threat online. The school had received multiple bomb threats the week prior, as well.

One of the school’s resource deputies identified one of the students in the TikTok videos, who was later arrested from their home and transported to a juvenile detention center. An anonymous tip came in later to law enforcement about a similar video from a different student. That student was located and arrested from their classroom.

A student from nearby Buffalo Creek Middle School was arrested for posting a TikTok video in a similar context, imitating a mass shooting.

During the school’s press conference, principal Craig Little urged any parents with information to come forward regarding the recent threats made online to the school.

“Parents, we need help with talking to your children,” Little said. “If they know anything related to the incidents over the last few days, we’re asking that they please reach out to school administration.”

Judge’s Decision for Release

On February 21st, 2023, the students’ attorneys argued during a hearing that the defendants did not imply any real threat of harm to others. The students had been in jail since their arrests nearly two weeks prior.

During a previous hearing on February 10th, the defense attorneys were unsuccessful in trying to challenge the students’ detainment. However, during the most recent hearing, Judge Susan B. Maulucci of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court agreed with defense attorneys that there was no probable cause to continue holding the high school students. The students have since been released until further proceedings.

The student from Buffalo Creek Middle was released on house arrest instead, which the judge explained was due to his video being paired with a potentially threatening comment.

Leland Taylor, one of the student’s defense attorneys, challenged that social media filters do not hold the same weight as a written threat. “What we’re talking about is a filter,” Taylor said. “So there’s not actually any weapon that was brought to school. There’s not even any actual weapon that’s portrayed in the picture.”

In addition, Taylor argued that in both his client’s case as well as several others, there was no written threat accompanying the video posted on TikTok. “There is nothing that indicates that there was any intent to even post a message that would be perceived as threatening, much less an intent to carry out an act,” Taylor said.

On March 22nd, the State Attorneys on the cases will have to determine whether they will continue with filing charges for the students.

“I think based upon the circumstances, everyone was doing the best they could with the information that was available at the time,” Taylor said after Tuesday’s hearing. “When the facts come out and the law is applied, we believe these young folks will be vindicated.”

Since TikTok released the “Nerf Gun Filter” in February, it gained millions of posts and views online. However, TikTok has since removed the filter from their app.

Charges for Threating a Mass Shooting

In Florida, it is a criminal offense to create any written or electronic threats to kill, injure, or conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism. Under Florida Statute Section 836.10, it is unlawful for any person to send, post, transmit, or procure the sending, posting, or transmission of, a writing or other record, including an electronic record, in any manner in which it may be viewed by another person, when such writing makes a threat to:

  • Kill or do bodily harm to another person; or
  • Conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism.

Any person who violates this 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 in prison.

How a Juvenile Defense Attorney can Help

A juvenile defense attorney is a legal professional who specializes in representing minors who are accused of crimes in the juvenile justice system. These attorneys play an important role in protecting the rights of young people who may not fully understand the legal process and who may be particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of criminal charges.

Here are some of the reasons why a juvenile defense attorney is important:

  • Protecting the minor’s legal rights: A juvenile defense attorney can ensure that a minor’s legal rights are protected throughout the legal process. This includes ensuring that the minor is not subject to unlawful searches or seizures, that they have access to legal counsel, and that they are not coerced into making incriminating statements.
  • Understanding the juvenile justice system: The juvenile justice system operates differently than the adult criminal justice system, and a juvenile defense attorney has expertise in navigating this system. They understand the unique challenges that minors face in the legal system and can advocate for their clients in a way that is tailored to their specific needs.
  • Reducing the potential consequences of a conviction: Juvenile convictions can have long-term consequences for a minor, including difficulty obtaining employment or admission to higher education. A juvenile defense attorney can work to reduce the potential consequences of a conviction by negotiating plea deals or arguing for alternative sentencing options.
  • Advocating for rehabilitation and support: Juvenile defense attorneys understand that minors who are accused of crimes often need support and rehabilitation in addition to legal representation. They can advocate for their clients to receive counseling, substance abuse treatment, or other support services that can help them to turn their lives around.
  • Ensuring a fair trial: Juvenile defense attorneys work to ensure that their clients receive a fair trial and are not unfairly punished for their alleged crimes. This includes challenging the evidence against their clients and ensuring that the prosecution meets its burden of proof.

In short, a juvenile defense attorney is an important ally for young people who are facing criminal charges.

Contact the attorneys at Pumphrey Law, who provide legal representation, advocacy, and support to ensure that minors are treated fairly and that their rights are protected throughout the legal process.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida 

If you or someone you love is a minor who has been accused of a crime, the first step you should take is to seek out the help of a legal representative. Although minors typically go through the juvenile court system, which typically gives less harsh punishments, this is not always the case. In more severe criminal cases, a juvenile defendant may be charged as an adult. If convicted, the minor could be looking at an extensive sentence in an adult prison.

The best way to protect yourself and your future is to work with an experienced Tallahassee juvenile criminal defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and his attorneys have experience working with clients of all ages and backgrounds. We vow to stand by your side and fight for your freedom. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today and receive a free consultation by calling (850) 681-7777 or leaving an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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