Benton County Prosecutor warns of possible felony charges, jail time for those caught threatening crime via social media

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — Schools across the Tri-Cities and Yakima Valley continue to brace for the worst after alerts of multiple anonymous threats circulated on social media.

On Friday, both the Granger School District (GSD) and the Sunnyside School District (SSD) posted on Facebook warning parents of threats targeted mostly at secondary schools.

 

Granger ThreatSunnyside Threat

The Kennewick School District (KSD) also sent out a similar safety statement on their website.

Kennewick Threat

All schools noted there will be an increased police and security presence on campus.

This comes after Grandview School District (GSD) completely shut down on Thursday after a violent and disturbing Snapchat post aimed at students.

Grandview Threat

READ: Grandview School District closes after threat of violence at schools

KAPP-KVEW’s Ellie Nakamoto-White sat down with Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller to find out what happens if you’re caught posting threats on social media.

“Depending on what was actually said, they can be charged with a felony. Depending on whether they’re a juvenile or an adult, they could end up going to prison for the threat or they can have different alternative programming,” Miller said. “Or it’s going to be something that’s going to be handled outside the criminal justice system.”

Miller said there are “some special laws” for threats made by juveniles.

“They can have those psychological evaluations to see if they’re a threat,” Miller said. “It will depend on when the person is evaluated for their psychological makeup and there’s a recommendation as to how dangerous they are,” Miller said.

Miller noted that it also depends on what exactly is said.

“Is it a generic threat like, I’m mad at the world, or is it a specific threat where you identify a person that you’re threatening?” Miller said. “Or that you’re going to hurt or shoot on a specific day or specific location?  The more specific, typically the more dangerous that threat is going to appear,” Miller said.

READ: ‘I will kill all of you:’ Grandview SD to reopen after violent Snapchat threat

However, Miller added that social media can just be an easy way “for someone to express themselves.”

“I wonder sometimes if this is an aspect of social media that’s bad that has a kid who has no intention of actually hurting somebody but he has a forum where he can make a threat and get attention,” Miller said. “On the other hand, we know some very serious crimes have been committed where a lot of people have been killed and there were signs and reasons for people to be concerned about that person ahead of time. We can’t ignore those threats. We need to be proactive because the last thing anybody wants is some child to go to school and get killed or injured.”

School officials posted late Friday afternoon that “the Sunnyside Police Department, the Granger Police Department, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI, law enforcement have several strong leads regarding the school threats that have been circulating around the Yakima Valley recently. They are confident they will be able to locate and prosecute those involved.”

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