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St. Croix County threats case: 'Overreaction' or 'reasonable inferences'?

Nicholas H. Cherrier

A St. Croix County judge will determine this month whether typos and sloppy name references in a criminal complaint are ample cause to dismiss the case against a teenager accused of telling others he was planning to "shoot kids."

The attorney for New Richmond resident Nicholas H. Cherrier vociferously argued his motion to dismiss the case — alleging terroristic threats and disorderly conduct — during hearings on Friday and Monday.

The complaint is an "excessive overreaction to statements that were made in jest," defense attorney Mark Gherty said in court Friday during a hearing that St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Edward Vlack ended as emotions soared in the courtroom.

Gherty apologized when the hearing resumed on Monday, April 30, telling Vlack his behavior was "out of line."

The attorneys finished their arguments at Monday's hearing, where Vlack said he would make a decision on the dismissal motion by May 10.

After presenting arguments Friday ranging from a reference to President George H.W. Bush's remark following his wife's recent death to a historic utterance by King Henry II, Gherty narrowed his comments on Monday.

There, he sought for the case to be dismissed, knowing the state can refile charges against Cherrier. Gherty argued that names of informants listed in the criminal complaint weren't clear and mar the document's validity.

"Go back and do it the right way," he said.

On Friday he attacked different elements of the complaint that touched on Cherrier's alleged comments to coworkers that led to his March 30 arrest. Among them were one saying he was going to "shoot kids" — a statement the 19-year-old later told investigators was made in jest.

"Granted in today's world jokes such as this aren't as funny as they may have been at one time," Gherty said.

Gherty cited a variety of examples of statements that can be interpreted different ways including President George H.W. Bush saying "I want to go" after his wife's funeral, the death of Bishop Thomas Becket and the line "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest," and activists who "levitated" the Pentagon.

St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Ed Minser conceded Monday that there were some slip-ups in name references and some confusion contained in the complaint, but he said that doesn't undermine the larger intent of the document.

A criminal complaint is meant to initiate charges, and can be established with a "fairly minimal" factual basis — provided it establishes the so-called "four corners": who's being charged; what is being charged; when and where the offense occurred; and why the person is being charged. He argued the complaint against Cherrier establishes all four corners.

The complaint is "not to be written in a hyper-technical fashion," Minser said, but rather relying more on common sense.

As to whether the alleged comment about "shooting kids" was made in jest, Minser asked Vlack to consider the larger context. The statement, he said, came over the course of two months of discussions by Cherrier about purchasing body armor, armor-piercing ammunition and possessing an AR-15 rifle.

"It's not just some isolated statement on a social media wall," Misner said Friday.

Misner said if a reasonable person would determine it as a threat, it doesn't matter if the speaker intended to carry out that threat.

Cherrier had the equipment "to potentially conduct a mass shooting," the prosecutor said Monday.

"There are reasonable inferences that can be drawn from that, that this is a true threat," Minser said.

Attorneys will reconvene with Vlack at 2 p.m. May 10.