December 5, 2007

About that teacher arrested for a blog comment.

BUMPED: Good news: "Washington County District Attorney Todd Martens says he believes the comment left by James Buss was disgusting but is protected under the First Amendment."

ORIGINAL POST:

Here's something more on the Wisconsin teacher — James Buss — who was arrested for a blog comment that some read as recommending that teachers be shot. We discussed this a few days ago here.

In the new story, we see the ACLU and UW polisci professor Donald Downs urging that no charges be filed:
Washington County District Attorney Todd Martens is considering whether to charge Buss with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of computerized communication systems.

"If you look at all the factors in this case, it's pretty clear it would be a mistake to charge," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. "At worst, it was somebody expressing admiration for somebody who did something reprehensible. But the more reasonable explanation is this is somebody who is trying to mock the conservative view of teacher salaries."

Police Capt. Toby Netko defended the arrest. He said the teacher who complained was disturbed by the reference to "one shot at a time" and other educators agreed it was a threat.

"What happens when you say bomb in an airport? That's free speech, isn't it?" he said. "And people are taken into custody for that all the time."

Donald Downs, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and expert in free speech, said that "all sorts of unsavory, controversial speech" are protected by the First Amendment.

"It has to be intended to incite violence" to be illegal, Downs said. "If it's tongue-in-cheek, there's virtually no way they can claim that."

Downs added, however, that the school district might have legal grounds to discipline Buss. The teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave while his school district considers what action to take.

Buss tried for sarcasm, but not everyone gets a joke. Oddly enough, he himself was in the category of persons who are threatened, if it's a threat. Why wasn't he more worried about inspiring a troubled student to attack teachers? Probably, like many writers, he assumed people would understand his writing. But not even the other teachers understood it. That's all quite unfortunate.

Now, let me be clear about one thing — sledgehammer clear — so that no one can misread this: The man should not be charged with a crime.

And let no one think I will be coming 'round with a real sledgehammer.

UPDATE: As indicated above, the decision was made not to prosecute. Here, Buss explains himself:
Buss told police he "just wanted to see if the hate towards teachers from other posters was so strong that other posters would endorse my facetious post," the report says....

Buss, who in a statement described himself as politically "moderate," told police he misspelled words and used incorrect grammar and punctuation to enhance his characterization of "Observer" as "a right-wing zealot."

Buss told police that he did not intend his post, which he called "mischievous," as a threat, but he understood how someone could perceive it as "advocating a Columbine-like attack on schools." Buss said he posted comments on the Web site under two other names, "Jeff" and "Ditto."

57 comments:

Cedarford said...

For some strange reason, schools are highly sensitive to people making threats for another Columbine.

This Buss guy may have intended it as sarcastic, as much as several students since Columbine who expelled, arrested and processed through the adult and juvenile justice system did. Certainly, with his reference to those shooters and killing teachers with one shot at a time, people perceived his remarks as a threat and reported him.

There is precedence for prosecution, Professor Althouse, based on students issuing vague threats or "just shooting my mouth off, I wasn't serious, honest!!" but still finding themselves criminally prosecuted or under court administrative orders.

Whats good in the eyes of the law, zero tolerance for students that make threats affecting the safe environment of students or are intended to terrorize - ought to be just as valid for adult teacher.

rhhardin said...

It's the symbolic order, and sort of a roust, to show the police are in charge and take themselves seriously even when they're in fact doing comedy. Maybe somebody will slap them down, or perhaps it will just be zero tolerance pie tossing, as is already done for school authorities.

Ridicule is vastly underused in the media.

MadisonMan said...

Professor, you can come to my house with a sledgehammer to break through all the icy snow.

I think zero tolerance laws should be called zero thinking laws. They tie the hands of judges who want to be sensible, and the laws rank right up there with the statement It's against policy to do that as bugbears of modern life.

AllenS said...

Let's note that the teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave. Students have been expelled for drawing a picture of a gun. Sometimes placing the grown-ups in charge, makes no sense.

rrubel said...

The first time you ignore one of these off the wall threats, and the guy starts shooting. All of a sudden the authorities weren't doing there job. Sounds like it's cover your a-- time. And I don't blame them in this day and age.

Ron said...

sarcasm is dustless black pepper to the humorless...

AllenS said...

Why is this so important for
Larry Dupuis, legal director of The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. "... But the more reasonable explanation is this is somebody who is trying to mock the conservative view of teacher salaries." [emphasis added].

Well, alrighty then.

Kevin said...

I agree that he should not be charged with a crime. He should be fired from his job as a teacher however, since he has displayed a lack of judgment that is unacceptable in a classroom.

Alan said...

Off Topic: Great parody with a reference to our host's favorite Beatle song: youtube link

I ran across that video via this blog post at Dennis the Peasant.

Paddy O. said...

"a lack of judgment that is unacceptable in a classroom."

But he wasn't in a classroom. And if we're going to start looking at teachers lives outside the classroom for indications of poor judgment then I suspect schools will become extremely understaffed.

This is a time in which I think the conversation itself is the right response. It's not a crime, but it's not really good thinking either. He shouldn't be penalized by the state, but he is getting penalized by the public. The internet has put him in stocks and now folks are throwing their rotten vegetables at him. Public humiliation is a nice middle ground between acceptance and arrest.

Likely he won't post like that again and likely others who hear of this might begin to think of web comments as being part of, rather than outside of, normal human interaction.

Jacques Cuze said...

Owens calls himself a tech guy, Jed calls himself a lawyer, they turned over the IP address within moments of reading the request so early in on a Saturday morning they had to wake the cop up to do so.

Jed the lawyer calls himself a libertarian.

They couldn't ask for a warrant?
They couldn't ask for a 3-5 day delay? They couldn't wait until Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday?
They couldn't first send an email to the EFF?

These are our conservative and libertarian defenders of free speech? And our defenders against the abuse of power from the state?

I'd say both the tech guy and the lawyer guy fail in their professions and fail as citizens.

Pogo said...

Wisconsin, land of the not-quite-so-free.

Residents remain free however to express agreement with the correct views of those establishing the law.

Double plus good!

sonicfrog said...

I have a blog friend who is a teacher. He got into hot water with his administration because two students had found his blog, and made a stink about it. It featured some ads that were, lets just say, gay and racey. My friend also occasionally wrote stuff concerning gay issues. Needless to say, he was terminated. He was going to fight, but decided it would take too much time and money, plus victory in the court system was very uncertain (not that it ever is, but you know what I mean). Sad thing is, he was featured in the Washington Post article a few months prior exclaiming what a fine job he was doing. But it's funny how things turn out. He has a great new job, but has also learned his lesson and doesn't blog anymore, though he does comment on those of his blog-pals.

Me? I have no visitors, thus I have no ads to offend. And I have alway been guarded on the things I write. It's part of my nature. I mean - Really! If I didn't, I would look like a bleeding idiot, some of the things I think of!!!!

sonicfrog said...

...he was featured in the Washington Post article a few months prior...

a, A

Good grief! One day, just once, I will stop and proof read!

Jim Howard said...

In Wisconsin the voters seem to want an all powerful government. It's not surprising that this sort of thing can happen in that climate.

Of course the teacher is protected by the first amendment.

Something to note is that one can be fired from a job for actions that are not crimes, or for actions that might be crimes but where charges aren't filed, or guilt established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Bill Clinton and his followers never understood this simple reality.

I'm sure this teacher voted for Clinton. Sadly for the teacher, he's not a Clinton so therefore is held to higher standards than mere Presidents.

James Wigderson said...

Ironically, if the teacher had used his real name and said he was a teacher and a former union official, almost everyone would have gotten the point he was trying to convey.

Pastafarian said...

You have to be a pretty good writer to get across that something you posted on a website is meant as a joke, or you're being sarcastic. Unless someone knows you personally they won't understand what you're writing is supposed to be funnyish.

Well.. except that killing teachers thing.

AllenS said...

Just received my Wisconsin License Plate Renewal Notice. $55 last year, $75 this year! We need to line up and shoot, ah, er, forget it.

Trooper York said...

Al Swearengen: Let's leave it all alone. I'm stupidest when I try to be funny
(Deadwood 2004)

MadisonMan said...

$55 last year, $75 this year!

Let's raise fees, not taxes. The new mantra of Government officials everywhere. I'm glad I only have 1 car.

PJ said...

I fully agree that the man should not be charged with a crime now. I think the more interesting question is whether the posting should ever have been investigated as a possible crime in the first place. It is easy to conclude now that there was no intent to incite violence and that the writer was not a criminal but a fool. I do not, however, fault either the public officials or the private citizens who, before the author's identity and credentials were known, perceived a possible threat (of low probability but high urgency) and acted to determine quickly whether it was real. With particular reference to the private citizens, it seems to me that "good citizenship" demands neither automatic cooperation with the police nor automatic testing of their authority to compel each act of cooperation, but the exercise of judgment. Contra M. Cuse, I see no failure of citizenship here.

HB7981 said...

"Mr. Buss" was the only way I knew this man being blogged about, as he was my physical science and chemistry teacher in high school. Having spent two years in his classroom, I can say that he is a sarcastic man indeed.

Looking back, I can now see that being a teacher was his life. He even went so far as to bring the fish he caught over the weekend into the classroom for a "snack". He was the type of teacher that would stay after school and work with students until he felt they understood the topic at hand. You wanted him to pick on you in class because that meant you were just like everyone else.

I picture Mr. Buss sitting at his desk at home, wanting to use his words to make a strong point and to get some attention. And he chose the wrong words. But take away his career? Too much, I think. Especially knowing the kind of teacher he was, and probably still is. It would be a big loss.

jeff said...

"Why wasn't he more worried about inspiring a troubled student to attack teachers? "

Because if a troubled shooter would be inspired by a blog post to attack teachers, he would also be inspired by his tv, radio, next door neighbors dog, his AC/DC cd, the voices in his head or any other unlimited possibilities.

Joan said...

his AC/DC cd,

Whoa, time warp there.

Middle Class Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Middle Class Guy said...

Arrested? No. Talking to with a subtle dose of job security thrown in for good measure, yes. Unfortunatley, the sensitivity police are getting too powerful in their quest to erase all forms of humor- even poor subtle humor.

sonicfrog said...

his AC/DC cd,

Whoa, time warp there.


No, not really. You'd be surprised how many of the kids listen to the "old" stuff. I see tons of AC/DC / Zeppelin / Aerosmith / Rush shirts in the halls of the schools I sub at. A few years ago, I got to sing "Highway To Hell" when my band played at a young couples Jewish wedding. And Yes - that IS the highlight of my music career!

MadisonMan said...

Common sense rules! Hooray for free speech.

El Presidente said...

I would not tolerate an employee such as this.

Middle Class Guy said...

I think you better get a new captain of police up there. He arrests people because other people are disturbed by what is written. Gee, the Wisconsin police are making criminals out of posters. I guess posting on the internet is the equivalent of saying bomb in an airport.

Is this Captain a tool or what? I was a cop for twenty nine years. If I pulled a stunt like this I not only would be sued, but fired and probably indicted by the Feds.

rhhardin said...

I don't see the interest in sledge hammers. A rubber mallet is fine.

Ann Althose said...

My vortex. Let me show you it.

Titusur said...

Good afternoon fellow republicans.

I am now in San Diego and leaving for San Francisco tomorrow.

How is everything?

Chicago was nice although it snowed and it was cold and O'Hare Airport sucks.

I had to go to Mike Ditka's Steakhouse with the Senior Management of my company. Yes, I was a fish out of water. Mike Ditka was there and I got my picture taken of him with the rest of the management of my company. I felt so butch and so wrong. I also went to a fabulous restaurant with a friend of mine from Wisconsin who lives in Chicago. The restaurant is called Carnival and it was divine.

How is everyone? What liberal has got us worked up tonight? I just called the front desk queen and told the bitch to bring the wet bar key to my room ASAP. I am ready to rumble.

Chicago was very pretty while the snow was coming down. I told my friend who lives there I just love his little city- in a patronizing way. We both laughed because we know I am still a small town goof living the big city dream.

I didn't want to do any of the room service workers on this trip which is always a bummer.

Ann Althose said...

Ann+sammich=awesome

Titusur said...

My assistant travels with me on my business trips.

Her name is Kitsie-how fabulous is that? All my friends love the name Kitsie.

My friend from Chicago called me Kitsie during dindin. We call Kits "That Girl" because she looks like Marlo Thomas from That Girl-she has no idea what we are talking abou as she is very young.

Ann Althose said...

The fact is I am 89 years old.

PatCA said...

I don't think it's a crime, either, but I don't think leaving a noose on campus is a crime either. How do they differ?

Palladian said...

Though it's easy to miss, notice that the person posting on this thread is using the name "Ann Althose". Nice tactic, designed to sabotage Althouse's name and smear her some more. It would be creepy if it weren't so pathetic.

Michael said...

And the sock puppet returns.

Ann Althose said...

I am the real Althose. That should be obvious from what I write here. No one will mistake me for a fake! EVAR!!!11!!

Law professors invented lolspeak, you know.

Ann Althose said...

Michael, the fact is that you need to read up on your netspeak. If you think I'm a sock puppet you are implying your hostess is crazier than any ever suspected.

Trooper York said...

I think I want to change the name of my blog to "Disgusting but protected under the First Amendment."

Palladian said...

Yes, Michael, I think the correct terminology for "Ann Althose" is actually "pathetic asshole"

or "p4th3t1c 4ssh0l3!!!11one" as the case may be.

Ann Althose said...

So did Ann give you a pity fuck or something, Palladian? Why the unadulterated fellatio?

Palladian said...

Because I like Althouse and think she's interesting. We tend to be defensive of people who we like when we see them being attacked by pathetic assholes.

You seem awfully defensive. Which of your little friends' feelings did Althouse hurt?

Ann Althose said...

Althouse is interesting for the whole train wreck that she is, and how incredibly easy she is to troll. She is a reactionary blogger, what do you expect. She didn't hurt anyone's feelings, she's an easy target. It's pathetic, yes, but so is a theoretically smart and educated woman in her fifties who is obsessed with Bill Clinton's penis and things that have been near it. Her fairly typical Hillary-phobia wouldn't be notable except for her vehement and repeated denials of it, and her need to make sure everyone knows who she will vote for.

So tell me, Palladian, do you form sort of an anti-muse to Althouse's genius, wherein everything for Althouse is literally about Althouse, you then attempt to do some kind of Freudian reversal on people who call her out on her batshit insanity?

Ah, Jeebus. Now I'm just another voice of reason on this blog, like the others Althouse has accused of sockpuppetry, defemation, and stalking in her perpetual victim-complex. I feel like I've lost my shtick after only 24 hours. But Jesus Christ tits in a mason jar, there's nothing quite like in-your-face willful ignorance. I mean, I know Althouse is doing it because it serves her little psychotic purposes, but Christ, can't you regular commenters do a little more than just gratuitous blowjobs? I don't know who's more pathetic, the second-tier losers like Palladian or the Train Wreck Queen herself.

Daryl said...

Why are you so worried about this poseur, Ann?

Do you think he just wants to create a little "vortex" and enjoy the fallout?

Trooper York said...

J.J. Hunsecker: Son, I don't relish shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun, so why don't you just shuffle along?
(Sweet Smell of Success, 1957)

christopher said...

Ann Althose said...
So did Ann give you a pity fuck or something, Palladian? Why the unadulterated fellatio?

I really like your blog. I particularly like the post about your hairdryer.

It reminded me of somebody else, I can't quite place who....

Tinian said...

The clown is what Little Green Footballs has termed a "Moby":

One type of troll we see all the time at LGF is known as a “moby,” after the pop star Moby—who publicly advocated posting “false flag” comments at right wing web sites, posing as extremist nut jobs, in order to discredit those sites.

I hope that helps.

reader_iam said...

James Wigderson: You may have a point there. Interesting speculation.

Bruce Rheinstein said...

Ironically, if the teacher had used his real name and said he was a teacher and a former union official, almost everyone would have gotten the point he was trying to convey.

He wasn't trying to make a point, he was trying to discredit the website. As Tinian points out, he was a Moby.

christopher said...

Tinian said...
The clown is what Little Green Footballs has termed a "Moby":

One type of troll we see all the time at LGF is known as a “moby,” after the pop star Moby—who publicly advocated posting “false flag” comments at right wing web sites, posing as extremist nut jobs, in order to discredit those sites.


I'd be kind of amazed if somebody could explain how to tell the difference between real and fake extremist nutjobs at LGF. I mean, really...

Bruce Rheinstein said...

I'd be kind of amazed if somebody could explain how to tell the difference between real and fake extremist nutjobs at LGF.

It doesn't matter. Unlike at, say, Daily Kos or Huffington Post, they tend to get banned rather quickly.

Clang!Honk!Tweet! said...

From Blogger Terms of Service:

"IMPERSONATION: We do not allow impersonation of others through our services in a manner that is intended to or does mislead or confuse others."

Clang!Honk!Tweet! said...

Not that there ever will be anything done about self-admitted trolls who feel free to violate the plain meaning of Blogger's Terms of Service.

After all, it's because this is a "reactionary blog."

Vigorous debate is one thing. But why is it that a person is obliged to include a malicious and confusing parody of themselves on their own blog?

The choices of security to stop this sort of thing on Blogger are poor. People have long been wanting Althouse to move to another service, institute Haloscan comments, etc., etc.

Please, Professor, do something about this. I don't mind a good blogfight, but I can't stand the trolls.

Thank you.

AlphaLiberal said...

I agree the man should not have been charged. Nor should he be fired for exercising free speech.

Did he damage anyone else's material wellbeing? Not that I've seen.