Gamer Justin Carter’s Attorney Takes Us Inside Contentious Arrest


This article was researched and written by Mark Burnham, Ross Lincoln and Phil Hornshaw. Follow them on Twitter: @MarkBurnham | @RossALincoln | @PhilHornshaw


UPDATE, 9:06 a.m. Sept. 11: Court documents provided by the defense have shed new light on the events surrounding Carter’s arrest in February and his time in jail in through March. We’ve updated the timeline and corrected parts of this story, which erroneously state that New Braunfels police interviewed Carter at his home and arrested him there in March.

UPDATE, 2:39 p.m. July 12: We’ve added a timeline of events to help clarify what took place in the case, starting with Carter’s Facebook comment and ending with his release from jail. Dates found on the timeline are taken from available court documents.

UPDATE, 1:17 p.m. July 12: Justin Carter is “in high spirits” following his release, according to his attorney, Don Flanary. Read the full report.

UPDATE, 11:51 a.m. July 12: Game Front has obtained court documents that clarify and correct a number of elements previously listed in this story, including dates of events such as Justin Carter’s arrest, the search of his domicile and its location, and more. The story below is being updated to reflect the most up-to-date and accurate information.

Almost from the moment the first pinball cabinets were installed in some smokey arcade, gamers have been accustomed to venting their opinions, frustrations and competitive taunts with little restraint. That group has never been afraid to say that someone is terrible at a game, to insult them for complaining, or to tell them their mom is [insult]. That tendency only became more pronounced as competitive gaming moved online and gamers could take full advantage of the ability to connect and share information of any kind on the Internet. Forums, social networks and multiplayer servers have all emerged as vast repositories where gamers can gather, virtually, and verbally tear each other apart without any concern as to who was watching.

Fast-forward to 2013: you’ve probably heard of Justin Carter. The 19-year-old League of Legends player was arrested earlier this year and charged with making a “terroristic threat” after a post he wrote on Facebook during a gaming-related argument was reported to Texas law enforcement authorities. If convicted, Carter could face two to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to $100,000.

With his family unable to afford the $50,000 necessary to get him out on bail, Carter was in jail for almost four months.

He was released today after “an anonymous good Samaritan” reportedly donated $500,000 to his family to pay the bail.

The case highlights the unsightly collision of competitive gaming culture, social media, the war of terror, freedom of speech, personal data collection and even the growing militarization of law enforcement. The case (and others just like it) have broad implications for the way Americans communicate with each other online, not only as gamers but as general Internet users.

Of course, law enforcement agencies have a major interest in investigating what they perceive as serious threats of violence. No one wants another Sandy Hook incident, so perhaps new, more aggressive methods of surveillance are required to stop these tragedies before they happen. But where is the line? At what point does trash talk become a crime, punishable with a jail sentence up to 10 years? Is this a wake up call for toxic gaming communities?

To make sense of it, Game Front spoke with Justin Carter’s defense attorneys, Donald Flanary and Chad Van Brunt, both of whom took Carter’s case pro bono on July 1. They walked us through the original incident, and Carter’s subsequent arrest.

The Facebook Comment

Back in February 2013, Carter had been playing League of Legends, as he often did. Described by Flanary as an aspiring professional gamer, Carter commonly played League of Legends “eight to 10 hours a day.” After the LoL session, Carter became embroiled in an exchange on Facebook, with “people he may or may not know from [Carter's] online community.”

The exchange did not seem friendly. According to Flanary, someone in the thread reportedly called Carter “effing crazy.” His response was “sarcastic and satirical,” Flanary said. According to the arrest warrant in the case, the comment Carter posted read:

“I’m f–ked in the head alright, I think Ima SHOOT UP A KINDERGARTEN
“AND WATCH THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT RAIN DOWN
“AND EAT THE BEATING HEART OF ONE OF THEM.”

This is where a Canadian woman, who reported Carter’s comments to authorities, got involved. According to Flanary, she responded to Carter’s remark by saying: “I hope you f–king burn in hell you f–king prick.” Court documents show she took a screenshot of the conversation and reported it to the Canadian Crime Stopper Association. The organization is a “civilian, non profit, charitable organization that brings together in a triparte relationship, the police services of a community, the media and the community in the fight against crime,” according to its website, and offers up to $2,000 for tips that lead to arrests.

How They Identified, Arrested and Charged Him

TIMELINE OF JUSTIN CARTER’S ARREST
 
● Feb. 13 – Justin Carter makes Facebook post
● Feb. 14 – Post reported to Canadian Crime Stopper Association
● Feb. 14 – CCSA sends information to Austin Police Department
● Feb. 14 – APD’s Austin Regional Intelligence Center investigates
● Feb. 14 – APD obtains arrest warrant for Carter; he’s interred in the Travis County jail; bond is set at $250,000
● March 6 – APD transfers info to New Braunfels Police
● March 19 – NBPD interviews Carter in jail; Carter allegedly admits creating Facebook comment
● March 20 – NBPD transfers Carter to Comal County Jail; searches his home, seizes his computer gear; bond is set at $250,000
● April 10 – Carter’s bond increased to $500,000
● April 10~July 1 – Carter is reportedly beaten by Comal County Jail inmates, placed under suicide watch
● July 1 – Attorney Ivan Friedman represents Carter; files motion to suppress Carter’s March 19 statement to NBPD
● July 1 – Attorney Donald Flanary replaces Friedman
● July 3 – Defense files writ of habeas corpus to reduce bond; hearing set for July 16
● July 11 – Anonymous donor gives $500,000 to Carter’s parents; Carter released on bond
● July 11 – Next pre-trial hearing set for 9 a.m. CDT, July 12
● July 12 – Pre-trial hearing rescheduled; reset for 1:30 p.m. CDT, Sept. 23

Flanary said the screenshot was then sent to the Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC) in Texas, which began an investigation into Carter’s identity.

The ARIC is an institution formed by the cooperation of three Texas counties, according to the organization’s website. The website suggests it’s an information-sharing entity meant to allow several other agencies to work together, including the Austin Police Department. Similar efforts have been made at the federal level to allow various law enforcement agencies to trade information quickly and easily in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

The official description of the ARIC reads:

“The Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC) is a collaborative effort of ten Public Safety Agencies in Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. ARIC partner agencies will work together to provide resources, expertise and/or information to the center. ARIC focuses on regional public safety data analysis. The mission of ARIC is to maximize the ability to detect, prevent, apprehend, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity.

“ARIC analyzes information and disseminate actionable intelligence used to address an all-crimes perspective. ARIC serves public safety agencies in Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties. Its initial capability was to consolidate law enforcement data/records for analysis across multiple law enforcement jurisdictions. ARIC exceeds applicable state and federal regulations regarding privacy and may provide actionable intelligence to detect, prevent or interrupt:

“Serial Criminal conduct
“Organized Crime
“Terrorist Activity”

Flanary said he was told the ARIC received information about the Facebook thread and the possibility of a threat of a school shooting, and proceeded to investigate, although according to Carter’s lawyers, the ARIC wasn’t sure where Carter was, where he lived, or from where the alleged threat had been made. According to the APD arrest warrant, police compared a photo from Carter’s Facebook profile to a Texas driver license that included the same image, and then used a records search to find an address.

Flanary said the address the police found was Carter’s former home in Austin, Texas, where he lived while attending high school. According to the arrest warrant, that residence was very close to an elementary school — approximately 100 yards away.

At the time of his arrest by Austin police, however, Carter lived in New Braunfels, a town located between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, in Comal County. He shared a place with a co-worker, a later arrest warrant states, which was located within a half mile of an elementary school.

The defense would later file motions alleging the police couldn’t have used a driver license to determine if they had the right Justin Carter because, as the defense states, Carter has never had a Texas license. Other motions would contend the information in Carter’s indictment was an inaccurate quote of what was written on Facebook, which the defense alleges misconstrues the context of the remarks as well as their meaning.

Carter was arrested by Austin police and lodged in the Travis County Jail on Feb. 14, and stayed there until March. At that time, police determined that he was actually under the jurisdiction of Comal County, the county in which New Braunfels is located.

The information gleaned by the ARIC, potentially including the fact that Carter had lived near a school, was passed on to the New Braunfels Police Department on March 6. On March 19, New Braunfels police went to the Travis County Jail and interviewed him, and Carter allegedly admitted to making the Facebook post.

That led police to request a search warrant for Carter’s apartment, and a warrant for his arrest, both of which were served on March 20.

The defense contends that the interview that took place on March 19 in the Travis County Jail violated Carter’s Sixth Amendment rights because he had the right to have an attorney present.

From Flanary’s viewpoint, many of the steps taken by law enforcement and the ARIC that led to Carter’s arrest are problematic.

“The thing is, the moment they get the screenshot, all they know is that there’s a person [who reported an alleged threat], and a person named Justin Carter,” he said. “They don’t know if [Carter] lives in Iceland, or Antarctica, or the Congo, or Austin, Texas. They don’t know if there’s jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute. They just know that someone somewhere on the planet sent … a satirical post about shooting a kindergarten.”

Flanary also contended that law enforcement’s reasons for arresting Carter at that point were flimsy, as were the jurisdictional issues.

“They have no jurisdiction to issue an arrest warrant, they don’t know at the time where it [the Facebook comment] was sent,” Flanary said. “So they don’t have a crime they could issue a warrant for. But that doesn’t stop them. They issue an arrest warrant based solely on that information, and they surmise that an offense has occurred, but they don’t specify the offense — they just say ‘a terroristic threat.’”

The “terroristic threat” charge against Carter isn’t about any imminent plans to actually engage in a school shooting or other attack. Instead, it focuses on Section 22.07 of the Texas Penal Code, a law that makes it illegal to issue “terroristic threats,” whether there’s an intent to carry them out or not. Flanary noted that the terroristic threats law would pertain to things like bomb threats that are meant to cause fear or disrupt people.

The terroristic threat law has a number of different conditions. Some threats are considered misdemeanors, but others are much more serious. The Comal County prosecutor, who brought charges against Carter, deemed his comments a third-degree felony, the most serious of the potential charges and which carry a sentence of two to 10 years and a fine of as much as $100,000.

Here are the various third-degree felony descriptions written in the law:

“A person commits an offense if he threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with intent to:

  1. cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas, or power supply or other public service;
  2. place the public or a substantial group of the public in fear of serious bodily injury; or
  3. influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or a political subdivision of the state.

The Comal County Prosecutor’s Office refused to comment when contacted by Game Front. The office issued a statement to TV station KENS 5 in San Antonio earlier this week:

“We are aware that there is a significant amount of public interest in the case.

“However, ethical rules prohibit a prosecutor from making any statements to be disseminated by public means that could prejudice a pending criminal proceeding. Justin Carter’s case will proceed through the criminal justice system like all other felony cases. Our office will have no further comment on the Justin Carter case until it is closed.”

The indictment states that Carter is accused of violating two areas of the terroristic threat law: to cause impairment of public services, and to place the public or a substantial group in fear of serious bodily injury.

However, the question in the case isn’t whether Carter intended to make good on the alleged threat; he’s not being accused of planning some sort of attack, and police found no evidence of an imminent attack when they searched his place of residence. Rather, the question is what he intended by allegedly making the statement. Carter’s “intent” will likely be a big part of the case if it winds up going to trial.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

29 Comments on Gamer Justin Carter’s Attorney Takes Us Inside Contentious Arrest

Mike

On July 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm

The Constitution protects our ability to be vitriolic, disgusting human beings (as the hardcore LoL players tend to be) and we shouldn’t have to live in fear of what people say. Yet another example of how incredibly far America has fallen.

Mccrackelz

On July 11, 2013 at 6:42 pm

This is why I’m not crazy about Facebook. We’re too often our own worst enemies.

Mccrackelz

On July 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm

ALSO, thanks for the thorough rundown of all this, I wasn’t sure if it was as cut and dried as a threatening Facebook comment sending a kid to prision. Thanks for clearing that up gamefront!

JawaEsteban

On July 11, 2013 at 10:48 pm

One of the (many) troubling things about this case that comes to mind is the fact that there is still, despite significant effort to educate, a very large group of social media users who don’t get that they would have more legal protection and more privacy yelling their thoughts at the top of their lungs in a Walgreens parking lot than posting them on Facebook. People need to stay off that site. It’s friggin’ Disney World for identity thieves, be they corporate or basic street criminal, without even scratching the surface of the other privacy issues at play.

Secondly, based on the information presented, severe overreaction here by law enforcement. Granted, Mr. Carter could probably not have picked a worse time to be making comments of this nature, but an arrest is way over the top. Ideally, this matter should have been investigated and vetted, and Mr. Carter would have received a visit from a representative of the regional JTTF or DPS to provide education and an admonishment to tone it down. That’s as far as it should have gone.

Thirdly, and this is entirely my own opinion spoken as a serious gamer for a very long time now, but getting worked up enough over LoL to make comments of the type that Mr. carter did is ridiculously immature and shows remarkably poor judgement on his part. Again, speaking as a gamer, it’s just a friggin’ game. If he was that wound up about it, he should have taken a breather, had a Dr. Pepper, and gone to do something else for a few hours.

Instead, thanks to Mr. Carter’s poor choice of words, the rest of us can only hope that this case continues to fly under the media radar. In the current media climate of painting video games as causing violent behavior, this is gas on the fire. Lovely. Just what we need. If this makes it to CNN, the House of Representatives is going to have a field day. Believe it.

pt

On July 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm

You just don’t say things like that though….

Mozer

On July 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm

I was practically vomiting by the time I finished reading this article. The media has people so freakin’ scared out of their minds by milking stories about school shootings and what-not that anytime a ‘gun’ enters the conversation, it practically becomes ing civil unrest. called Carter crazy? The whole of the US government is ing crazy for even allowing this kid to sit in jail for exercising his first amendment rights! The harsh reality is that we as human beings are savage creatures and the fact that we have a central government and local law enforcement, doesn’t mean we’ve changed at all since the feudalistic times when a group of bandits could come in and slaughter your whole village without resistance. Living in fear is not living at all. Grow up, ing liberals!

Axetwin

On July 11, 2013 at 11:17 pm

They’re going to lose the fight on the 6th amendment violation. Since he is being charged with a threat of terrorism, that would probably fall under the Patriot Act, which suspends the 6th amendment right.

Now, I’m going to say something that a LOT of people are probably going to disagree with. I agree with him being arrested. Words are not meaningless and under the right conditions have consequences. Saying “lol jk” doesn’t always mean the person is actually kidding. A giant red flag for someone legitimately contemplating suicide, is when they joke about it. So when the police got involved, they had a duty to arrest him while they investigated. Saying “lol jk” should not act as a get out of jail free card…..no pun intended.

HOWEVER with that said, if they still don’t have a case after 6 months, then it’s time to drop it and let him go. But they didn’t, which in my mind says someone is pushing. Someone high up wants to make an example of this kid. Unless they actually have a case here, it’s the only thing that explains why he is still in jail after 6 months and why the judge spontaneously doubled his bail as soon as his case started to attract attention.

If someone is pulling strings, calling in favors to work against him does not bode well here. If I’m right, there is a good chance he’ll be unjustly convicted and sentenced to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, that won’t be the end of it. This case will then be part of the next salvo fired against the gaming community by the government and it’s going to hurt us…..bad.

Jay

On July 11, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Well written articles that actually matter. This is why I’ve go this site bookmarked.

babs

On July 12, 2013 at 1:55 am

JOSH PILEAULT is also ‘doing time’ for essentially the same scenario- keep up your good work

me again

On July 12, 2013 at 2:22 am

i hope this Don Flanery is a good enough lawyer- he’ll be fighting for all of us that have said things online and particularly- facebook/ he’s working pro bono- i hope he’s smart enough

fistfullofcents

On July 12, 2013 at 3:50 am

Sounds like the KGB has taken residence in America.

sep

On July 12, 2013 at 5:58 am

What a sick, paranoid world; putting this guy in prison. This is why I’ll never father a child. I’m doing him/her a favor.

Ron Whitaker

On July 12, 2013 at 5:58 am

@axetwin: While I certainly don’t think that he was smart to make the comments that he did, it seems like the arrest was going too far. That’s based on what we know now, obviously. As of right now there’s been no compelling reason for the arrest, and it appears to be a massive violation of his rights. Now, if there’s some sort of evidence that we don’t know about yet, then obviously that changes things a lot. But words are in fact just words. The proper response to this would have been to investigate. If he was found to actually be an imminent threat, then I’d be fine with the arrest. If not, then he should have been left alone.

What worries me more than this arrest is the sheer number of people who are taking the attitude that it’s OK. (Again, that’s based on what we know now.) OK, the kid said something stupid. I don’t think anyone disagrees with that. But to lock him up only for saying it is such a blatant violation of his constitutional rights that I really hope that there’s some evidence we don’t know about. Something that justifies the knee-jerk reaction of Texas law enforcement. Something that says “This kid is a dangerous threat.” If there’s not, we’ve just learned that limits are being imposed on free speech, and that’s a terrifying thought.

sep

On July 12, 2013 at 6:07 am

seriously! are you kidding me??!

I hear far worse snide, unethical, thoughtless, racist, sexist, rude, senseless, obnoxious, and pretty much any foul attribute you can assign to a phrase, at the local pub every friday. But I have a brain that can tell me what to take seriously even when I am ing drunk. Are Americans really that paranoid??! Almost everyday I get reasons to not really like them.

*flame suit on

sahib

On July 12, 2013 at 6:14 am

Adding another reason for being glad I am NOT a citizen of the USA.

Gahoolie

On July 12, 2013 at 8:15 am

I don’t know what to say. I read about Snowden, Justin Carter and the whole NSA-worldwide-spying-mess and I realize that it all boils down to this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_Police

And this does NOT only happen in America. Here in Europe it is just the same.
I feel sick.

Big the Gangster Cat

On July 12, 2013 at 10:36 am

Yet another fine example on how since the country’s broke they make money on prisoners meaning they’ll do anything to get a guy convicted if it means more money to suck from the taxpayers. Sandy Hook was a hoax and everyone knows it, it was a ploy by the u.s. government to get guns banned so marshal law could be in effect. Everything that the u.s. government does nowadays it’s all to get us to surrender to them. The forefathers of this country wanted it to have less government and more freedom for the people. We can see now how our right to vote ed that up. With Northern Colorado wanted to secede from Colorado it’s only the first step, soon there will be another civil war but this time it will truly be about fighting for freedom yet again. Wow that was a random rant.

Novus

On July 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I’m going to nuke the whole world, the moon, and the aliens on mars even though I do not have the ability to do so nor proof of the alien’s existence. You heard it here first, folks.

Huntsman06

On July 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Apparently law officials found the loophole in the game of life & catching criminals; forget trying to find the criminals and just watch their facebook status.

Ihatepeople

On July 13, 2013 at 9:11 am

I don’t understand why anyone would say something so stupid like that on the Internet. He certainly doesn’t deserve jail time, but his parents need to kick his ass for being such a dumb ass.

Aedelric

On July 14, 2013 at 4:25 am

My wife works in a kindergarten, I have no sympathy for his predicament for what he said.

He is a hardcore League of Legends gamer and as Mike said they are generally disgusting human beings. With luck his jail time has taught him a life lesson, unfortunately I doubt that it has making the donation his family received an exceptional waste of money.

I live in Vienna, freedom of speech is important in Europe and generally protected, but hate speech is not. Ill informed people believe you are free to hate and threaten others and they are protected to do so, this is not the case, for instance here you can get jail time for vehement hateful speech, many other countries are the same.

If he was in any ways a decent human being nothing would have happened to him, I guess karma came a calling.

Michael Hartman

On July 15, 2013 at 12:45 pm

There are surely a lot of details we don’t have yet.

Why was there such a huge delay before the arrest?

What did they find when they seized his computer?

I find it hard to believe that the police, DA’s office, etc. would be ok with locking some 19 year old guy up for 4 months if all he did was post some stupid comments on Facebook. There has to be more to the story.

1) Does this young man have a juvie record with some violence or something indicating a pattern of behavior.

2) Did his computer have evidence of planning to do something like he threatened?

If the facts are just what we have, then yeah, the police/DA/government went absolutely crazy and I hope he sues them for millions for violating his constitutional rights.

I find it hard to believe that there isn’t more to the story. I hope we find out.

Steve C.

On July 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

The sick thing is, nothing is going to happen to the sickos currently tweeting/posting “lynch George Zimmerman”,
“Kill cops, kill whitey” etc. When one of these is quite likely to incite violence and even killing….

Ares

On July 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Well say stupid crap like that and one deserves an ass kicking. Jail not so much. From reading it looks like ass kicking was received and I think(hopefully) a lesson was learned. Time will tell.

As mentioned above about the media. He better hope they don’t get wind of this now that the focus of their attention is pretty much done in Florida. You know they will be searching for something to sink their claws into.

supremeallah

On July 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

@Ares

No, you are totally wrong. People don’t “deserve asskickings” over words.

Try that crap defense in court on assault charges and see how far that gets you.

Words don’t hurt. Sticks and stones.

People who get offended over words are just pathetic.

Phil Hornshaw

On July 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

@Michael Hartman

We’re thinking the same, and details are still coming out at a trickle. I can say for certain that there couldn’t have been plans for an attack in the seized material coming from Carter’s home, however — simply because the charges would be different. If there was evidence of an attack, he wouldn’t be charged with the equivalent of calling in a fake bomb threat — he’d be charged with planning a real attack. The fact that he’s being prosecuted for the false threat rather than for something worse is very telling.

We’re going to keep on top of this report for as long as is necessary to uncover all the details, however, so stay tuned.

-.-' srsly

On September 14, 2013 at 4:41 am

everybody should just calm their tits. It’s a god damn online conversation. This kid got arrested? is on trial? Jesus Christ why don’t you lock up more then half the online users? I’ve seen far worst online conservation and no body gave a particle about it, but no, an canadian feels offended, let’s lock up the world. This is just plain stupid. Taking game chat and online conservations serious is just what we need. That would mean that at least a 1000 people that played bad are waiting for me to have sex with their mother, sister, cousins etc. The sadest part is that the authoritys are taking this serious. I still don’t belive this crap load

LoL connoisseur

On September 15, 2013 at 3:13 pm

This is absolutely the most ridiculous arrest ever. 10 years? I could date rape a woman and get less than that. Good going America.

Overgame

On October 2, 2013 at 7:02 am

When I read comments like the one posted by Aedelric, I’m wondering if “Idiocracy” isn’t already here.

Eh guys, you never made a bad joke ? Everyday, there is someone in my guild joking about how we will start the Extermination of all Humans, World Domination, Mass Murdering ? Or when we are talking about TV Shows like Breaking Bad or Dexter ?

Do you realise that someone was arrested and spent 6 months in jail for a few words on Facebook ? What’s next, someone playing GTA V saying “I got a new weapon, I’m gonna shoot everything in the way” will be sent in jail ?