Thursday, December 12, 2019

A man who tweeted that he would pay $500 to anyone who would kill a federal immigration officer was acquitted by a jury on Friday in a case that questioned whether social media threats were protected by free speech

In a less correct age I would probably have said that he sounds like a mad Polack to me

Brandon Ziobrowski, 35, of New York City was cleared by a federal jury of using interstate and foreign commerce to transmit a threat after a week of testimony at the US District Court in Boston. If convicted, Ziobrowski faced up to five years in jail and a potential 250,000 fine.

Ziobrowski said he was relieved the ordeal was over after the verdict was presented in court. 'It seemed like the right verdict. It's been a horrible year. I'm glad its over,' he said as he walked out of court with his family and lawyer.

Derege Demissie, Ziobrowski's lawyer, said the case 'should never have gone this far.' He said: 'The government turned a tweet that was made in jest - a hyperbolic political statement - into a federal case.'

Last year, Ziobrowski took to Twitter to air out his frustrations with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and other law enforcement by verbally targeting officers on his account.

'I am broke but will scrounge and literally give $500 to anyone who kills an ice agent. @me seriously who else can pledge get in on this let´s make this work,' Ziobrowski tweeted to around 400 twitter followers on July , 2018.

Demissie argued that Ziobrowski's comments were constitutionally protected political speech and the prosecution of his client was 'blown out of proportion.'

'This is a guy who tweets about all kinds of things and says outrageous things,' Demissie said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann pushed back at  Ziobrowski's defense, saying that the tweet constituted a 'true threat' not protected by the First Amendment.

She said: 'The defendants words were clear and unambiguous. It put the lives of law enforcement at risk. That is not protected speech. That is a solicitation to commit murder.'

Siegmann also asserted that Ziobrowski's tweets were not in any way sarcastic or joking, as Demissie claimed to jurors.

When Ziobrowski shared his disparaging tweet last year, Siegmann reminded jurors that the names of ICE agents had publicly been released and Homeland Security officials judged the man's statements as a credible threat.

Judge Denise Casper told jurors that the main question they faced was if Ziobrowski intended to communicate a viable threat against officials or if the threat could at least be interpreted that way by others. She noted that a true threat does not include 'caustic' or 'sharp' political attacks, as such comments are protected speech.

In response to the acquittal, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a press release that they accept the jury's verdict but maintained that the tweet was a threat to federal officers.

Lelling wrote: 'We respect the jury’s verdict. But in this case the defendant posted a tweet that, on its face, offered $500 to anyone who killed a federal agent.'

'In 2019, over 100 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. The public needs to know that, regardless of today’s verdict, we will never hesitate to prosecute apparent threats against law enforcement officers.'


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