HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - America has been rocked by numerous mass shootings going back nearly 20 years to Columbine.
In response, the Huntsville Police Department hosted an active shooter seminar Monday night, training nearly 200 people on what they need to do to survive such an event.
One attendee asked an HPD presenter how far law enforcement can go to head off a potential shooter if an individual is showing signs of considering gun violence.
Tuesday WAFF 48 News reached out to spokesmen from the Alabama State Troopers and Huntsville police on that issue.
They said their agencies can interview, research and monitor potential threats, but incarceration requires the District Attorney’s office to file charges. This could include charging an individual with making a terrorist threat.
Trooper Curtis Summerville said a public complaint could be probable cause for charges, but sometimes more research is needed.
“It doesn’t have to be the person that totally held up a sign saying ‘I’m going to do this.' If we can get little things, it may be over a time period or time-frame that this person has made these threats in the past and it’s something we’ve worked up to,” he said.
HPD Lt. Michael Johnson said the department looks at an individuals criminal record.
“There are a lot of tools at our disposal, and one is a person’s propensity for violence. Is there a history or track record for them being arrested for violence, are they forbidden to carry a firearm,” he said.
Both said if the threat is credible, they loop in the DA’s office for further action.
Madison County Assistant District Attorney Shauna Barnett said via text that taking social media threats and applying them to law sometimes isn’t an “easy fit.”
“We have to talk it out to see if there’s competent evidence that meets the elements of the charge that’s being contemplated. If we talk it out and determine that we can, in good faith, support a charge, then we advise them we move forward,” she said.
Summerville said it's a balancing act between public safety and not infringing on someone’s constitutional rights. Prosecutors consider the following legal definition before they charge an individual with making a terrorist threat:
(a) A person commits the crime of making a terrorist threat when he or she threatens by any means to commit any crime of violence or to damage any property by doing any of the following:
(1) Intentionally or recklessly:
- a. Terrorizing another person.
- b. Causing the disruption of school activities.
- c. Causing the evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation, or other serious public inconvenience.
(2) With the intent to retaliate against any person who:
- a. Attends a judicial or administrative proceeding as a witness or party or produces records, documents, or other objects in a judicial proceeding.
- b. Provides to a law enforcement officer, adult or juvenile probation officer, prosecuting attorney, or judge any information relating to the commission or possible commission of an offense under the laws of this state, of the United States, or a violation of conditions of bail, pretrial release, probation, or parole.