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'Terroristic' Tattoo Spells Trouble for Minn. Man

The Pioneer Press (via ABA Journal) has the story of a Minnesota man who was sentenced to probation this week after pleading guilty to making a terroristic threat against a police officer -- a threat that took the unusual form of a tattoo of a pig.

Twenty-one-year-old Antonio Jenkins Jr., reputedly a member of the Bloods street gang, was charged after he posted a photo on Facebook of a tattoo on his bicep that depicted a person holding a gun to the mouth of a pig. The Pioneer Press reports that, according to the criminal complaint, the pig was "wearing a police hat and uniform with a patch on the right shoulder with 'Mpls. 8230' and a nameplate with the name 'J. Seidel' under the patch. Below the 'J. Seidel' were the words 'F--- the police.'"

The message was allegedly intended to threaten Minneapolis police officer Jeffrey Seidel, who works in the gang investigation team. In a caption on the photo, Jenkins wrote, "My tattoo iz a pig get'n his brains blew out." The criminal complaint noted that 18 people had "Liked" the photo on Facebook.

In November 2012, Jenkins was charged with making a terroristic threat for the benefit of a gang. At the time, he was on supervised release after serving a prison sentence for a robbery conviction.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at the time of Jenkins' arrest that the tattoo communicated a clear and specific threat against Seidel. "It identifies a specific police officer by name and badge number, and expresses a clear threat to him -- 'I'm going to kill you' -- and then [Jenkins] publicizes it," Freeman said. "He's a known Blood, and the officer works in the area. The whole series of things made it enough to press the charge."

Jenkins was offered a plea deal after he had parts of the tattoo inked over, the Pioneer Press writes. Jenkins' public defender, Cynthia McCollum, stated at the plea hearing Monday that Jenkins' tattoo is "basically a black spot now." McCollum had said at a hearing in January that Jenkins wanted the tattoo removed, but that state funds to pay for removal of gang-related body art were not available.

News reports and commentary on Jenkins' case discuss the interesting question of whether Jenkins could have raised a successful First Amendment defense at trial.

University of Minnesota Law School professor Dale Carpenter told the Pioneer Press at the time of Jenkins' arrest that he doubted the tattoo would be considered protected speech. "It's a serious threat to the health or life of another person and such statements, no matter what form they're made in -- written, verbal, put on Facebook or put on your body -- it is unprotected," Carpenter said.

"He can say, 'I hate the police' or he can say, 'that police officer is corrupt' or he can criticize him," Carpenter said, "but he does cross the line when he makes a threat."

But Chuck Samuelson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota who was interviewed in a Star Tribune report on Jenkins' arrest, said that calling the tattoo a terroristic threat was "a big leap."

"For terroristic threats you have to brandish a gun or a gun lookalike. … Basically we have someone making fun of the police," Samuelson said. "Bad manners, you bet," he said. "Criminal? No."

In his post on the case on the Simple Justice blog, criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield agreed, writing that the fact that Jenkins was "being prosecuted because an incredibly ugly image on his body makes the cops feel angry and hurt, not to mention disrespected, goes well over the line. There is no crime here, except against good taste."

At the plea hearing Monday, Hennepin County District Judge Lyonel Norris set as conditions of Jenkins' probation that he have no contact with Seidel and commit no new crimes. The judge also offered Jenkins some advice about more appropriate themes for any future body art: "Next time you want to get a tattoo, flowers would be nice."

Posted by Laurel Newby on June 19, 2013 at 04:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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