What To Do If A Trump Supporter Threatens You

A case study in what one woman did after being threatened by one of Trump’s “tough people” in the police.  (First published in Crooks & Liars on April 19, 2019)

Trump has a long history of making threats. He also directs others, like Michael Cohen, to make threats to specific people. Trump supporters also hear that Trump expects them to “be tough” when Trump is attacked.

This week Trump explained to a Brietbart editor that when his people in the military and police reach a certain point he expects things will be “very bad, very bad” for his enemies. Trump Again Threatens Violence If Democrats Don’t Support Him

It is clear to me that we cannot stop Trump from inciting and suggesting violence, rather than trying to stop a jackass from braying, I want to focus on what you can do if a Trump supporter threatens you. Below is a case study of someone who was threatened online and the steps she took to deal with it. Here are the first three steps:

1) Don’t ignore them
2) Demand an investigation of the threats made and the person making them–establish the facts
There should be due process for the people accused of making the threats
3) If the facts support the case, there should be appropriate consequences for the people who made the threats
When there are no consequences for threatening others, it continues

Men with guns threaten women online, via email, text or on social media every day. These threats rarely show up in the news unless the woman is shot at, injured or killed. In an average month, 50 American women are shot to death in a domestic violence case. When we look at the background of shooters after the fact we often see a history of domestic violence and threats, which leaves people wondering what they could have done to prevent it.

In this case study our hero, Morena Hockley, didn’t ignore the threat, she did research and found out that the man making the threat was a law enforcement officer. She then demanded an investigation by his employer and got it. What happened after the investigation is also a very important part of the story and that I want more people to learn about.

Disclosure: I know Morena Hockley through my work on Gun Violence Prevention. I advised her on talking to the press. The photos are in this piece were obtained directly from Hockley or from Facebook

CASE STUDY PART 1: One of Trump’s “people” in the police threatened his critics

Here’s the story in the San Antonio Express.

Reserve constable deputy suspended after threatening emails to S.A.-area woman over Trump views by Fares Sabawi

In December 2018, a conservative New Braunfels resident took to Facebook to express displeasure upon discovering a book mocking President Donald Trump was for sale at Got Toys, a gag store in the Central Texas town that often carries items mocking politicians on both sides of the aisle.

What followed was a barrage of supportive and opposing comments, email threats from a Trump-supporting Bexar County reserve constable deputy and his subsequent month-long suspension handed down on Friday.

Precinct 3 Deputy Calloway Lawson, who works part-time for the constable’s office, was apparently upset over comments from people who supported the book store and criticized Trump in their comments. And he let them know how he felt.

Others were more disparaging, insulting people’s size and appearance and using homophobic slurs. Some of his comments, like those making fun of a poster’s name, were trivial.

“Why don’t you go find a safe place and have a group hug with your f***ing liberal f****t friends, you’re probably doing that right now,” he wrote.

Morena Hockley, a local blogger and craftswoman, tried to engage with Lawson at one point on his negative review of the toy store.

“Too bad a book hurt your feelings so badly,” she wrote.

In response, Lawson posted one of Hockley’s Facebook profile pictures with a mocking caption.

Lawson’s behavior allegedly led to multiple users reporting him, which led to the deletion of his Facebook review and a temporary ban from the social media site.

That’s when the reserve deputy allegedly singled her out, found her email address and sent her multiple messages on Dec. 8, 2018. Hockley said she didn’t report Lawson’s comments and wasn’t sure why she was being targeted. Lawson later told an investigating sergeant he though Hockley owned the store in question.

Do you actually think it was smart getting me kicked off Facebook for a week I’m coming for you you f***ing c**t I’m coming for you,” his first email read.

Lawson sent a second one a minute later that read “every time I look at your f***ing horse mouth in that giant f***ing billboard of a smile you have I think of Mr. Ed, I can’t wait to see you soon,” the second email read.

Lawson did not respond to mySA.com’s interview request seeking comment on Monday.

Reserve constable deputies usually do little investigative work and patrol only as needed. They more often work off-duty at businesses or events.

Hockley didn’t know that though. She saw a law enforcement officer sending her what she perceived were threats, she said in an interview with mySA.com.

“He said ‘I’m coming for you,’ and I’m not sure what kind of information he has access to,” she said. “I took it seriously.”

Hockley responded to the emails in an effort calm him down, assuring him she was not responsible for his account being suspended.

Lawson responded, “telling you see you soon is not a threat I never threatened you believe me, apparently you didn’t take a look at my profile before this started you would know if I threatened you. Have good holidays no one is threatening you.”

That did not quell Hockley’s fears, she said. She asked Garden Ridge police to provide extra patrols by her house and put up a camera outside.

Hockley also filed a formal complaint with the constable’s office against Lawson a month later, on Jan. 8.

Sgt. Jaime Perales investigated Hockley’s complaint and submitted his report to Constable Mark Vojvodich who suspended Lawson for 30 days, pulling his work permits, which prevents him from working off-duty. Lawson was also placed on probation for the remainder of his employment with the constable’s office.

A letter to Hockley about the investigation dated March 8 said Lawson violated multiple department policies, including conduct unbecoming of an officer, bringing discredit and relations with the public and social media.

“However,” Perales wrote in his letter to Hockley, “the alleged threats did not have the elements to charge Deputy Lawson with terroristic threats.”

Hockley was not surprised to hear that. She said investigators told her that Lawson would have had to explicitly threaten her life to be criminally charged.

“But I took it as a threat on my life,” Hockley said. “How else am I supposed to interpret this. He said ‘I can’t wait to see you,’ especially with his (Facebook) picture showing all his guns in it.”

Though Vojvodich did not respond to interview requests from mySA.com, Perales said it was a complaint the office took seriously.

“We’re sorry it turned out the way it did because Precinct 3 doesn’t condone that language or behavior,” Perales said.

Lawson expressed regret for the incident, Perales said, and said he “should have just kept quiet.”

“He regrets it, he said everybody left negative comments so he left negative comments,” Perales said.

Perales said Lawson told him that, “I’m coming for you,” meant he was planning on posting more negative comments when he was allowed back on Facebook.

“At no time did he mean that he was going to physically harm her,” Perales said.

Though Perales did not decide on Lawson’s punishment, he said the discipline is “pretty significant.”

“That’s how he makes his living and it’s hurting him right now,” Perales said. “We can assure people that won’t happen again.”

At this point most stories about complaints based on threats end. But when Hockley got the letter from Precinct 3 she thought the punishment was too lenient. Several people suggested she take the story to the press, which she did. In parts two and three I’ll break down the process and next steps

CASE STUDY PART 2: Tell Your Story To the Press

I advise activists about how best to interact with the media. One of the things I explain to them is that reporters will make an effort to talk to both sides. They also like to talk to third-party experts for context. You might have a solid story, but to the reporter your story is just one “she said” vs a trained police spokesperson’s “he said.”

Spokespeople for the police know the exact right thing to tell the media. For example, in the answers above note what Sgt. Jaime Perales conveyed to the reporter:

  • He recast Lawson’s intent to something that didn’t rise to the level of a firing offence. This recasting happened months later, only after Lawson got in trouble for making the threat.
  • He relayed regret from Lawson, months later, and made a pledge that it will not happen again.
  • He stated department principles and condemnation of Lawson’s manner, which “does not present the department in what it stands for”
  • He shifted focus from the seriousness of the threat to what the organization saw as a serious penalty to the perpetrator

I advised Hockley to ask to speak to the reporter after he talked to the officials to find out what they said about her case. This is because in most stories the officials get the final word. Hockley had done research on Lawson’s history (as referenced in the story).

In addition, when she talked to the press, she provided additional context for the story based on third-party research. It turns out that Bexar County was named one of the deadliest counties in Texas for domestic violence in 2017. As Hockley put it, “How can women trust police to keep them safe when men like this are protected by the police department?

Political spokespeople use the opportunity to get the last word with the press all the time. It’s called “getting another bite of the apple.” When a politician says something really terrible, the spokesperson “walks it back” or “clarifies.”

What doesn’t usually happen is a reporter challenging the credibility of an explanation, the redefinition of a term or a different interpretation of a law than is commonly understood.

To deal with this reporting process it is incumbent on us to prepare for multiple possible responses.

When Hockley spoke to the reporter again and heard what the officials had to say she was able respond to their answers about why she was still concerned and explain her next steps.

——-[The San Antonio Express story continues]——-

But Hockley disagreed. She felt the punishment was lenient, considering that Lawson was reportedly previously fired from the Cibolo Police Department after a spotty attendance record and a questionable arrest of a woman he said tried to run him over in 2007.

The woman initially pleaded guilty to the charge, according to the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations, but the conviction was vacated because of her poor legal defense and Lawson’s questionable behavior.

He’s unstable, has a history of crossing the line and breaking the law and yet he’s still going to be kept on as a peace officer,” Hockley said. “That astounds me.”

Perales said he was unaware of Lawson’s past and that it was not part of his investigation.

Hockley said she supports local law enforcement but still plans on taking her complaint to the next Bexar County Commissioners Court meeting, she said.

“I spent the past three months looking over my shoulder,” she said.

— # # # —

CASE STUDY PART 3: Protect yourself and others from threats in the future

When I talk to people about men with guns making threats and how to respond, they often reply, “If you report them and they get punished, they might get REALLY angry.” Or, “What if you report a threat and nothing happens?”

In this case, the complaint wasn’t ignored, but the response seemed inadequate. What to do now? This brings up the next steps:

Fix the systems, policies and laws in communities to better deal with threats and the people making them.

4) If the consequences for the threat seemed inappropriate for the crime, work to change the consequences
This might involve going to the police commission and asking them to change their policies.

5) If no laws exist for the situation in your community, find groups that are working to pass them and offer to help.
Many states have created Red Flag laws, Extreme Risk Protection Orders or Emergency Gun Restraining Orders.

If your state doesn’t have these laws, find a group that is working on developing them and help See a list of state that have them here. See current Status of State Red Flag Laws updated interactive chart

6) If laws exist, but people don’t know about them, learn them and educate others on how to use them
California now has ERPO laws, but many people don’t know how to use them. Some GVP groups, DAs and police department officials in California are traveling around the state educating people on the laws.

7) If laws exist, but aren’t enforced because of lack of resources, demand more resources

Talking to the Bexar County Commissioners Court can be about more than just asking for a change in their policies about threats coming from law enforcement. It also can be an opportunity to get resources to help the entire community deal with domestic violence. 5 years of deaths and injuries from domestic violence cases in San Antonio: Gun Violence Archive.

This might include suggesting the commission support ERPO laws which would protect the safety and security of the entire community.

There are 2 red flag bills active in Texas legislature: HB131, SB157 Session ends on May 27, 2019.

As Think Progress’s Zack Ford said on the David Feldman Show podcast. Americans often debate about how much time people deserve for a crime, but “we should have a criminal justice system that is motivated toward improving the safety and comfort of everyone alive.”


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