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‘Threats’ against officer’s life: Terrorist threats or free speech?

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‘Threats’ against officer’s life: Terrorist threats or free speech?

Dominic Aguilar, 37, left, appeared in a Stockton courtroom Wednesday morning with his attorney Tai Bogan in a continued arraignment for allegedly threatening Manteca Police Officer John Moody. The...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED May 23, 2013 1:22 a.m.

Threats against a Manteca Police officer’s life on the Internet forced a former Manteca man to appear in a Stockton courtroom Wednesday morning for his continued arraignment on felony charges.

Dominic Aguilar, 37, allegedly made “terrorist threats” on a Facebook page entitled, “Justice for Ernesto Duenez” several months ago.  Duenez died in an officer involved shooting June 8 two years ago when he was fatally shot in a confrontation with Officer John Moody in the 200 block of Flores Street , just west of Cottage Avenue and near Doctors Hospital of Manteca.

Manteca detectives arrested Aguilar in Roseville early in January after driving to that city with a warrant for his arrest.  Officer Armen Avakian had testified last month that he knew Moody was fearful after the posting appeared that said he might be shot in the face without warning during any traffic stop with “50 shots to the dome – with a pop, pop, pop!”

Aguilar’s attorney Tai Bogan said at the May hearing that he felt Aguilar’s words had not been meant as a direct threat, suggesting that his client was protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution’s mandates.  Bogan said it was a takeoff on what his client had heard a rapper include in his delivery.

Bogan asked Judge Franklin Stephenson Wednesday to allow Aguilar to be offered a 977 P.C agreement that he would not have to personally attend his court sessions, being otherwise represented only by his attorney.

“This is a very important case because the First Amendment is involved,” the pro bono Modesto attorney stressed.

Bogan said the Justice for Ernesto Duenez Facebook page has had up to two million hits across the country and has become much of a political forum against police brutality with many cases throughout the U.S. being highlighted.

“I took the case pro-bono because I want him to have a fair trial.  I didn’t know it was going to be a media sensation, but it has been all over the country.  I had no clue when I accepted the case when the family called me.  It’s extremely exciting to be fighting for First Amendment rights,” he said.

Criminal terrorist threats must be clear, immediate, unconditional and specific with the victim understanding the depth of the threat that would be carried out with a person threatening to kill or cause bodily injury, Bogan said, for it not to be seen as free speech.   The attorney said he didn’t believe what Aguilar did, by posting his message on the Facebook page, met those criteria.

Aguilar’s attorney said the case is definitely a Constitutional issue that crosses between all attorneys whether they are in agreement with freedom of speech or not.  “It is the core of American jurisprudence.  It is the key,” he said.

Bogan added that he will ask Superior Court Judge Franklin Stephenson to dismiss the charges when the arraignment continues on June 18 based on the Constitution and protected speech.  If the case is not dismissed, he will seek a jury trial that will hopefully go on the court calendar in September or October.

In the earlier Manteca court session, Judge Ronald Northup had argued against the defense attorney’s assertion that Aguilar had only been ambiguous; countering there is a lot of speech that is unprotected.  He said the social media is no exception.

Deputy District Attorney Ron Indran noted at the Manteca court hearing that Aguilar’s admission to what he had written on Facebook was mainly for “shock value.”

Aguilar was initially held in lieu of $150,000 bail, but is now free from custody.

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