Police investigate web threats to city officials; prosecutor chooses not to press charges.

September 7, 2016
Tom Rotta during an interview with LPD Det. Aaron Sailor in August.

Tom Rotta during an interview with LPD Det. Aaron Sailor in August.


#MasonCountyNews #MasonCountyPoliceNews #Ludington

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — The Mason County Prosecutor’s Office has chosen not to press charges against two men who recently allegedly made threats against two city officials. The threats were made July 16 on the website Ludington Torch. The two men, a 62-year-old Ludington man (referred to as suspect 1) and a 47-year-old Macomb man with Ludington ties (referred to as suspect 2), made threats against City Manager John Shay and City Councilor Michael Krauch in response to a post made by site administrator/creator Tom Rotta, 52, of Ludington, who is also a candidate for city council.

On The Torch, suspect 1 uses the handle “Aquaman” while suspect 2 uses the handle “jfc123.”

Editor’s note: The information obtained by Mason County Press was distributed at the press conference through Freedom of Information requests that were made simultaneously by the three media companies represented at the conference. Rotta had also requested the information previously through FOIA and received the documents during the conference. MCP has chosen to not include the names of the two suspects and we also deleted the name of “suspect 1” when Rotta referred to him by name in the video interview. Under FOIA, any member of the public may obtain these documents. 

The threats were investigated by the Ludington Police Department, which held a press conference Wednesday afternoon, which included Shay, Krauch, Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett, Ludington Police Det. Aaron Sailor, the 47-year-old suspect (via telephone), and Rotta, along with representatives from three local news media.

Rotta’s post started out with his views on the July 11, 2016 city council meeting in which he offered commentary about the meeting’s proceedings. In that commentary, actions by Shay and Krauch were discussed.

Suspect 1 stated in reference to Shay: “But, I still owe the shyster a medical cure for his mouth that day to this day. If I ever see him in the streets alone, he’s all mine too, irregardless of the consequences.”

Suspect 2 then stated: “I would also like five minutes in a room alone with him for his disrespect to my mother.” The suspect was referring to his mother, who owns a Ludington business and who has allegedly had dealings with city officials.

Rotta then posted: “Giving a villainous character like John Shay a right cross to the chops may seem like a deserved and therapeutic act, but it does not solve anything and can get you serious time in the pokey, since he does effectively run the LPD.”

Suspect 2 then responded: “I was speaking of Krauch and his bully stuff. Shay and his disrespect, a dark alley… lol.”

Suspect 1 responded: “How about a kick in the gonads?”

Chief Barnett said the investigation was initiated by LPD due to the concerns of the well being of Shay and Krauch.

During the press conference both Shay and Krauch said they felt threatened by the comments, however, Rotta said he did not perceive the comments as threatening.

Sailor said he spoke with suspect 1 on Aug. 1. At that time, suspect 1 admitted that he wrote the comments but he had no intention of physically harming Shay, Sailor wrote in his report. “He stated that he had been intoxicated when he posted the comments and later realized that he shouldn’t have posted them,” Sailor stated in his report. “He stated that he had later posted a retraction of his comments. He stated that he was sure that I had read the retraction since I had been ‘spying’ on the forum. I advised (suspect 1) that I had not read the retraction.”

Suspect 1 chose not to participate in the press conference. Suspect 2, however, agreed to be part of the conference via telephone.

Det. Sailor, during his interview with Rotta, pointed out to Rotta that The Torch’s terms of service, also known as use terms, specifically state that participants on the website agree that they will not post, email, or make available any content or use the network (referring to the company that created the website template/service) “in a manner that is libelous or defamatory, or in a way that is otherwise threatening, abusive, violent, harassing, malicious or harmful to any person or entity, or invasive of another’s privacy…”

Rotta said the terms were created by the company Ning, which operates the web forum service that Rotta uses to host The Torch on.

Sailor asked Rotta if he believed the comments were in violation of the terms of use.

“I would probably be more inclined that they were close to that, with the possible exception that John Shay is a public figure,” Rotta said. “Typically when you have comments about a public figure like a mayor or a city manager they have more leeway than as far as what you can allow with that.”

Rotta admitted to Sailor that by his response to the two men’s comments that he wrote the response “because I did think he should tone it down, because I am more of a peace advocate, and perhaps he is amping it up more than he should have.”

During the press conference suspect 2 apologized to Shay and Krauch for his comments. He said he was frustrated over a situation with his mother’s business and that the comments were never meant to be actual threats of physical harm. Suspect 2 later made an apology on the Torch as well:

“I made some comments on here about John Shay And Mike Krauch that were threatening. As God as my witness I did not mean them that way but they were seen as such. So I am here to truly apologize to both gentlemen for what I wrote, will never happen again.

A very difficult lesson to learn in a very hard way for me. Please watch your words, the written word does not come with a face gesture or tip of intent like a spoken word does. Again I am sorry.

Carry on Torchers. I am laying down my Torch and walking off into the horizon.”

During the press conference Rotta was asked by Chief Barnett if he would make modifications to his website and policies after this manner.

“This is First Amendment protected speech and this whole investigation is a witch hunt,” Rotta said. “I can understand how some people can get threatened by words on a website there but I didn’t then and I don’t see them now as being threatening toward any of the individuals we have here.”

Shay told Rotta that he was “crazy” and that allowing threats on his site were crossing the line.

Krauch said he accepted suspect 2’s apology but did consider the comments threatening.

Both Shay and Krauch stated that they also still feel threatened by suspect 1’s comments and perceive them as real threats.

Subsequently, the comments from both suspects were removed in early August, after the investigation began. However, LPD had secured copies of the conversation. On Sept. 1, Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Spaniola sent a memo to LPD stating that “the People are unable to prove intent to threaten beyond a reasonable doubt” and therefore would not be pressing charges for threats via Internet and using a computer to commit a crime.

Chief Barnett stated during the press conference that the dismissal of the prosecutor does not mean that the individuals who felt threatened couldn’t pursue a civil law suit.