Clowns are no longer a laughing matter after creepy clown threats have been made across the country including in Texas.
Although many have been hoaxes, there have been 12 arrests nationwide linked to clown activities, reported the New York Times.
But has clown paranoia got out of control? The clown episodes have divided opinions with some experts blaming mass hysteria rather than criminality.
A report from Fort Worth appears to be typical. Police responded to reports of a clown running down a sidewalk and yelling on Melanie Lane. Such behavior, even if substantiated, appears to fall short of criminality. No arrest was made.
Richardson police spokesman Kevin Perlich told the Dallas Morning News police have received multiple tips about clown-related threats, but they fell apart when investigated.
He said nothing came if the clown-related threat linked to vandalism at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson.
However, in Houston, the Harris County district attorney’s office announced a 14-year-old was charged with making a terroristic threat against a Houston school. Officials say the student made his alleged threat on social media and used the image of a clown.
At Cedar Hill in Texas, security was tightened up after an Instagram post from “Billy the Clown.” Lt. Colin Chenault, a police spokesman, said the clown “seemed to suggest he would be going to the school to cut people,” the Dallas Morning News reported.
Chenault said the threat may have been posted by a minor but school officials upgraded the police presence on the Cedar Hill High campus.
The clown incidents started in late August with alleged sightings of clowns in Greenville in South Carolina. Residents claimed clowns were seeking to lure children into woods but no arrests were made. Reports have since sprung up across the country.
The New York Times article noted how concern about clowns led to the closure of schools in Reading, Ohio.
A woman reported she was attacked by a man dressed as a clown. A youth was arrested over alleged clown threats made to harm students at a school in Colerain Township.
Making threats on social media can constitute an offense. The U.S. Supreme Court attempted to draw a line between free speech and threatening behavior in 2014 when it ruled “true threats” on social media constitute a criminal offense.
Although clowns have become associated with sinister behavior in recent weeks, it’s not an offense to post clown pictures on social media or to dress as a clown. There is certainly a grey area if the postings have a possible double meaning or the clowns are acting in a suspicious manner. The national climate of fear over clowns threatens to muddy the waters further.
If you are charged with making threats you should consider hiring an experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer with a long record of defending people charged with internet crimes in Texas as soon as possible.