Teen's Threatening Essay Isn't Protected Speech

Court Watch Posted on

A student's essay fantasizing about a Columbine-style high school shooting was a true threat and not free speech protected by the First Amendment, the 8th Circuit ruled.

When creative writing teacher Ann Mershon read David Riehm's essay called "Bowling for Cuntchenson," she felt "threatened, scared and hurt," Judge Gruender wrote, because the essay seemed to foretell her own murder.

Riehm had previously written an essay criticizing an "old fashioned, narrow minded, uncreative, paranoid ... jealous" English teacher named "Mrs. Cuntchenson."

Riehm was suspended and referred to the Cook County Department of Health and Human Services. Based on the social worker's recommendation, Riehm was detained and placed in protective custody.

Two days later, Riehm was released from custody because he was considered
not mentally ill or dangerous. Riehm and his mother sued the county.

Gruender agreed with the trial court that the Riehms presented no evidence that county officials acted improperly.

"The details of the teacher's murder and the narrator's suicide lead to the inescapable conclusion that it was a serious threat directed at Mershon," the judge wrote.

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