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CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man argued Monday that his “vulgar, threatening and alarming language” he is accused of messaging to a prosecutor isn’t harassment, it’s constitutionally protected political speech and he made no “true threats” to her.
Eric Tindal, lawyer for Marcus Alan DeVore, 34, who is charged with third-degree harassment, said the case should be dismissed because his client cannot be penalized for criticizing how First Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter, as law enforcement official, does her job. Causing an annoyance or using derogatory words isn’t enough to make it unprotected speech, Tindal argued, saying DeVore didn’t make a “true threat” in his Facebook posts to Slaughter.
DeVore was charged with third-degree harassment for sending “threatening, intimidating, alarming and annoying” messages to Slaughter on Dec. 22, 2021, because she helped prosecute his friend, Drew Blahnik, now known as Johnny Blahnik Church, who was convicted of killing Chris Bagley in 2018.
According to a criminal complaint, DeVore had personal contact with the intent to threaten or intimidate Slaughter on Dec. 22 at the Linn County Courthouse.
After DeVore was warned not to contact Slaughter again, he continued to send “threatening, intimidating, alarming and annoying” messages to her, according to the complaint. He admitted to officers that he sent those messages through Facebook and that they included “vulgar, threatening, alarming and intimidating language and emojis,” the complaint stated.
Tindal, in his written argument, said DeVore had a “legitimate, lawful purpose — exercising his constitutionally protected right to comment upon public officials, even if distasteful, and his speech is constitutionally protected.”
The rest of DeVore’s messages to Slaughter is “nonsensical, merely offensive or crass language or statements of joke, idle talk or mere statements of political hyperbole,” Tindal said. None of them meet the definition of true threats.
Assistant Johnson County Attorney Caleb Widmer, appointed as special prosecutor, said DeVore contacted Slaughter through her personal Facebook account multiple times between July 26 and Dec. 22, 2021. He “tagged” her in posts of news articles that mentioned her and then sent Facebook messages to her personal account. He used profanity and disparaging language in the messages.
DeVore even continued to message Slaughter after she told him further contact would lead to her reporting it to law enforcement, Widmer said. The remarks DeVore made show he had the intent to threaten, intimidate and alarm Slaughter, Widmer said.
DeVore escalated his remarks and moved from public postings on his social media feed to private messages only visible to Slaughter, Widmer said. His intent was to annoy or alarm her, Widmer said, noting that facts establish sufficient probable cause for the harassment charge.
Widmer said DeVore had no legitimate reason to send the message on Dec. and 11 and 22 because it wasn’t about her job performance. It was about her as a person or her character. He used a “highly offensive, vulgar” slang word.
The change in his messages, in intensity of the communications to using the offensive word, would make it more likely that Slaughter understood the messages as threatening, intimidating and alarming, Widmer said in his written argument. Because the messages were “fighting words” that inflicted injury and with no lawful purpose, they are not protected speech and the motion to dismiss should be denied, he said.
Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Casey Jones said he would provide a written ruling in a few days.
DeVore’s trial is set for Monday in Johnson County District Court. If convicted, he faces a fine and up to 30 days in jail for third-degree harassment.
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