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Palm Coast Wednesday, May 15, 2019 2 months ago

State Attorney's Office files charges against teen accused of racist threats against teacher

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Another teen involved in the incident has not been charged.

BY: Jonathan Simmons and Brian McMillan

The State Attorney’s Office has filed felony charges against a 16-year-old girl accused of making racist threats against a black local school teacher in the course of a computer conversation with another student last December.

Both students are white. The case led community activists to protest against the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, which community members accused of trying the bury the case because the agency had initially announced that it would not be filing charges. It later did file charges. The teen’s lawyer has called the State Attorney’s Office’s decision to file felony charges political. 

The girl was arrested, taken to the Department of Juvenile Justice facility in Daytona Beach, had a first appearance hearing May 15 and has since been released on home detention, according to her attorney, Joshua Davis.

No charges are being filed against the other party in the conversation, a boy who did not actually know the teacher, according to an FCSO news release. The victim was Kimberly Lee, a language arts teacher at Flagler Palm Coast High School.

“Our investigators needed time to do an excellent job, which they did with this case,” Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said in the FCSO’s news release. “Hatred and threats of violence have no place in our schools or our community.”

The two teens’ conversation came to the attention of law enforcement after a teacher noticed that one of the teens had typed on a school-issued laptop, “WERE GONNA GET AWAY WITH MURDUR TONIGHT.”

The teacher tipped off the school’s IT department, which pulled up the students’ chat logs.

It began with the girl, who’d written, “My [racial slur] teacher is p---ing me off. ... Im in a bad mood already. I swear im gonna stomp on her f---ing face and smash her weave into the ground.”

The boy replied, “LMFAOOOOOO,” then, later, added, “Kill her.”

The conversation continued, with the teens talking about setting a time of 1:35 a.m., and then telling racist jokes, according to an FCSO report.

Confronted by law enforcement, both teens said it had all been an “inappropriate joke.”

The deputies who initially worked the case wrote that there was a “joking manner” to the students' conversation. They recommended against filing charges, finding no credible threat.

But Lee was “petrified,” she later told deputies. She asked her husband to leave work immediately to be with her. The family bought a gun. At one point she woke up in the middle of the night, afraid the teens were in her home. She took a leave of absence, and wouldn't return to school until March 1.

The FCSO reviewed the case and recommended misdemeanor assault charges, with a hate crime enhancement.

The local branch of the NAACP pushed for felony charges.

The State Attorney’s Office ultimately found grounds for a felony charge, for the girl: making written threats to kill.

Davis said political considerations have influenced officials’ decisions about the case.

The Sheriff’s Office, Davis said, “simply forwarded charges to pass the buck to the State Attorney, and of course he’s got to be re-elected as well, and who wants the appearance of being a racist organization and not filing charges on racist statements? That’s going to do you no good for re-election, so this is where we are. Now I’ve got a 16-year-old little girl down in Daytona behind bars and barbed wire for making stupid, racist comments about a teacher.”

But, he said, “just because something might be despicable or disgusting does not make it a violation of a criminal statute. That’s the whole First Amendment thing. … I don’t get to judge things on morals or on how I feel about them. I judge things based on what is written in the criminal statutes.”

In this case, he said, “The statute says that the written threat of harm or death must be intended to be delivered to the person that you’re threatening. ... The two kids were messaging each other on the school computer. ... So it was not sent to her, nor was it ever meant to be sent to her, so the statutory definition of sending a threat to kill to that person obviously is way off.”

Davis believes that Lee, in addition to the teens, has been treated unfairly. He was also bothered by the fact that, on May 14, the Sheriff’s Office released to the public not only the name of the teen girl, which is legal because she was charged with a second-degree felony, but also the name of the teen boy, who was not charged at all.

“There’s a problem there,” Davis said. “It’s become a political game, and it’s no longer about what happened.”

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