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Free speech fight in San Diego court over gun violence restraining order

SDPD: Gun owner calling himself 'The Liberal Terminator' posted threats on Instagram.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Warning, this article contains graphic language.

Freedom of speech took center stage Thursday in a downtown courtroom, where the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego City Attorney’s office are pushing for a gun violence restraining order against an Alpine man.

Detectives alleged Timothy Caruthers, Jr. made racist and threatening posts in 2020 and 2021 on Instagram and, as a result, he should be banned from owning a firearm for up to five years.

Under California’s gun violence restraining order law, a person may be prohibited from possessing a firearm if the person “poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another.”

Attorneys for the man argued in court their client had a First Amendment right to make hate-filled posts on the Internet, offensive as they may be.

In July, the San Diego Police Department filed a temporary gun violence restraining order against Caruthers, 23, alleging the Alpine resident posted the racist threats on Instagram under the username The Liberal Terminator.

“Racist and violent threats, pictures of hangings and lynching's,” Deputy City Attorney Joshua Kay said in court.

Kay said the posting included the N word and other racist terms.

“Respondent wrote, ‘All (expletive)s need to die’…‘I don't know how much longer I can contain my anger’…‘I want a race war to start so I can kill Black people’… And then he warns quote, ‘I'm not even joking,’” Kay said.

“He says, ‘I want to kill (expletive)s. I want to torture them and beat them to death and watch them gurgle and spit on their own blood,’” Kay continued.

While posting threats online, Kay alleged, Caruthers purchased a handgun and illegally concealed it inside his car.

“Respondent was apprehended in his car at four in the morning with his Glock 19, unloaded, mind you, however, there was a loaded magazine near it. He also had 50 rounds of ammunition with him,” said Kay.

During the civil court hearing, Caruthers’ attorney, Gregory Garrison, argued his client is a college honor student with no criminal history.

“This young man is one of the least dangerous, most accomplished young men I've ever come into contact with. And now they want a five year restraining order,” Garrison told San Diego Superior Court Judge Richard Whitney.

Caruthers’ other attorney, Suzy Moore, is also his mother.

She said her son purchased the handgun after he was accosted on Highway 52 for having a pro-Trump bumper sticker on his car.

His Instagram posts, Moore argued, are protected by the First Amendment.

“Are there offensive images? Yes. Are there offensive discussions? Yes,” Moore said in court.

“It's all protected, anything that you say on the Internet, as long as there's not an identifiable victim and as long as it's not an imminent threat,” Moore argued.

“There was no imminent threat.  There were no identifiable victims.  That's the standard that you have to meet in order to have a true threat so it takes it outside the of the protections of the First Amendment," Moore continued.

“True threats are: ‘I'm going to go over your house and I'm going to kill you at two o'clock.’ That's a true threat,” she said.

Caruthers no longer owns the handgun in question, as it was confiscated by police as part of his misdemeanor criminal case, where he pleaded guilty to having a concealed firearm in his vehicle.

Judge Whitney took the arguments under submission, telling the parties he expected to rule within a week on whether the civil, gun violence restraining order case will go forward or be dismissed.

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