GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grandville man who’s going to trial this week on a charge he threatened a state lawmaker says prosecutors are “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Edward Thomas Kelman, 66, is charged with one count of malicious use of telecommunication services. If convicted, he could get up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Kelman called News 8 Monday afternoon to share his side of the May 2020 incident that led to the misdemeanor charge.
Kelman said he was upset because the IRS took his stimulus check, so he tried to call the head of Michigan’s Republican Party.
But the number he found online went to the office of State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky instead.
Kelman claims the aide who answered the phone at the Livonia Democrat’s Lansing office refused to give him the number he sought.
“And I asked her, ‘What am I supposed to do? Come down there like the rest of these people and walk around with my shiny AR-15 to get an answer?’ That’s what they took as a threat,” Kelman said in a phone interview with News 8.
The Grandville man said he had no intention of going to Lansing and only mentioned an AR-15 because he’d noticed armed protesters had stormed the Capitol days earlier.
We don’t know what the aide reported Kelman as saying because the lawmaker’s office, as well as Michigan State Police, declined comment.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, whose office brought the charge, was unavailable Monday.
“The next day, I walk out of my house to take my dog for a walk and I got U.S. Marshals up on my lawn, coming out of cars and everything else,” Kelman recalled.
“They asked if they could search my home. I don’t own a firearm. I don’t even drive. I wasn’t coming to Lansing to do it. I think they’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Kelman’s call to Pohutsky’s office was not recorded. But court documents said he admitted to state police he had made the statement in question but told investigators he never intended to follow through.
A law professor told News 8 Monday that federal courts have ruled it’s not a defendant’s intention that determines criminal responsibility, but what the targeted victim believes.
“This comes up on social media a lot. People post things and then say, ‘Oh, I wasn’t serious,'” explained Brendan Beery, a professor at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School.
“Well, then you shouldn’t have posted it because if the person you threatened thought it was serious, and a reasonable person would think it was serious, you’ve just lost your First Amendment protection, regardless of what was in your mind subjectively at the time.”
Beery noted that while instilling fear in a target by threatening them is not protected speech, venting or “blowing off steam” is.
“Courts recognize the value in (venting). Even if it is ill-advised, people do have the right to express themselves and to vent their anger and frustration. What you don’t have the First Amendment right to do is to cause somebody else the kind of angst and harm that comes along with being threatened,” Beery explained.
Beery said people often mistakenly believe that the right to free speech is absolute.
“The most famous example that people throw around is that you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater because the harm caused by that speech far outweighs any benefit or value the speech has,” Beery said.
Kelman’s trial is scheduled for Thursday in Grandville District Court.