Hamilton County Sheriff's Office issues warning for social media threats after recent uptick

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office issues warning for social media threats after recent uptick

December 11th, 2018 by Meghan Mangrum in Breaking News

Sheriff Jim Hammond, alongside Juvenile Judge Rob Philyaw, Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler and Hamilton County District Attorney Neil Pinkston and other officials held a press conference Tuesday to address what Hammond called "an uptick" in threats.

Photo by Meghan Mangrum /Times Free Press.

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office officials and other law enforcement figures are cautioning parents and students to be aware of what they are posting on social media this holiday season.

Over the past few weeks, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has investigated four threats to schools or students made over local media, what Sheriff Jim Hammond called "an uptick."

Hammond, alongside Juvenile Judge Rob Philyaw, Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler, Hamilton County District Attorney Neil Pinkston and other officials held a news conference Tuesday to address the increase and the consequences of posting threats online.

"We have seen an uptick in some of the abuses of social media among some of our young people," Hammond said. "We know that this time of year, when school lets out and during the holiday season, that these kind of things can get up a little higher than we'd like to see them."

At a Hamilton County school board work session Monday night, Superintendent Bryan Johnson could not confirm that there had been an increase from the school's perspective. He said the district was made aware of the news conference Monday afternoon.

Hammond said Shaun Shepherd, captain of the youth and community services division for the sheriff's office that oversees the county's school resource officer program, had brought the increase to law enforcement's attention.

Law enforcement cited four recent threats and about six to eight total this school year, though Shepard said that number could differ depending on whether other agencies had investigated potential threats.

"Anytime we have a report, whether it's from a child or a school employee, we take those investigations very seriously," Shepherd said. "We will try to determine if its a viable threat or a hoax."

The sheriff's department did not provide more data on the number of threats seen in the past or during the 2017-18 school year.

Law enforcement officials emphasized that charges had been filed in some of the recent cases, though they would not go into details of specific cases.

"When law enforcement brings us a case of threats to schools and otherwise, we will prosecute those to the fullest extent of the law," said Pinkston.

Overall, law enforcement emphasized the need for parents to be aware of what their children are doing online.

"Children need to understand how important it is that what's posted out there lives forever," Behler said. "Technology is your friend, but when used the wrong way, it can become a powerful weapon in a bad way."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.