Former student arrested on terroristic threat charge

A former Allegheny student, Luong Phan, was arrested at his Erie home on Nov. 23 by members of the Erie State Police on a charge of a terroristic threat. Phan allegedly posted a string of threatening posts on his Facebook page targeted at the Allegheny College community.

Phan was not enrolled as a student at the time of the threats, according to Joe DiChristina, dean of students. DiChristina could not speak to Phan’s status as a former student.

At 5:45 p.m. on Nov. 23, patrolman J. Wilson was dispatched to Phan’s home for a welfare check on Phan, according to the affidavit of probable cause in the police criminal complaint of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Erie police department was contacted after receiving phone calls from community members and DiChristina.

[Phan] was communicating directly, through media, a threat of a crime of violence of people down at the college. There were exact threats made.

— Stan Green

Erie police lieutenant Stan Green referenced state crime 2706 which states a person commits the crime of terroristic threats if the person communicates, either directly or indirectly, a threat to commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another; cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation; or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or cause terror or serious public inconvenience with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience.

“We felt that as a police agency that, that was what he was doing,” said Green. “He was communicating directly, through media, a threat of a crime of violence of people down at the college. There were exact threats made.”

Because police evacuated Phan from his home, the crime is considered a felony charge in the third degree.

According to the affidavit, the posts caused concern for “terror and serious public inconvenience to the campus of Allegheny College and persons who are ‘friends’ of [Phan] on the social media site Dean of Students Joe DiChristina stated that classes could be cancelled because of the threats directed towards the campus.”

According to the affidavit, posts written on Phan’s Facebook included but are not limited to, “Death is coming for all,” “Everything will END in 2 days if you don’t believe in me,” “Allegheny College, you are hell on earth. Everyone living there you better leave ASAP. Death awaits you.”

Social services were at Phan’s home before police arrived on the scene, according to Green.

“Because of the incident, the more appropriate thing to do was to get him admitted to the hospital,” Green said.

Phan was then escorted to a hospital where a current warrant is out for his arrest. As soon as he is released, he will be put in custody. As of Dec. 3, Phan was still admitted at the hospital

This recent case of terroristic threats lies in the shadow of a United States Supreme Court case where the legitimacy of threats via social media may or may not be considered valid. The defendant, Anthony Elonis, began writing threatening Facebook posts after his wife left him in 2010.

“There’s one way to love ya but a thousand ways to kill ya,” he wrote in one post. “I’m not gonna rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

According to news reports, Elonis was charged under a federal law that prohibits any threat to injure another person over interstate commerce. What is under debate for the Supreme Court is whether or not the defendant’s words alone are enough to convict him, or if there must be clear intent. For the Erie police, DiChristina’s confirmation that the threats from Phan were threatening to the Allegheny community helped lead to the charge and Phan’s arrest.

“That was based on the amount of phone calls people were giving us, the kind of feelings that students were expressing both to security, to me, on email,” DiChristina said.

In mid-November, before the most recent incident, Phan was seen on campus in the Pelletier Library, said DiChristina. At the time, he was no longer a student and was asked to leave by college security.

“He was no longer a student at Allegheny. When someone is not here and then they show up and they can sometimes put other people in an uncomfortable situation, he was asked to leave campus,” DiChristina said. “He was in the library sometime mid-November and he was very cooperative with Safety and Security and he left campus at that time. He was always cooperative with us.”

If Phan is found guilty, he faces a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $25,000.