Did you think it was cute to pull the fire alarm in high school?
How about yelling “fire” in a crowd when there’s no emergency?
Well, it’s not cute. But is it a crime?
I’m Lawyer Alexandria Serra, this is Lawyer Talk Thursday (catch it every week on Instagram @alexandriaserra), and you’re about to find out.
In the past week, El Paso saw at least two examples of people in public saying there was an emergency when there wasn’t. Actions like that can break the law in one of two ways:
- False Alarm or Report
- Terroristic Threat
What is considered a False Alarm?
Let’s start there, with understanding what a false alarm is defined as in the law.
You can be charged with this crime if you knowingly initiate, communicate or start a rumor of a bombing, fire, or other emergencies that you know is false, and if your actions do ONE of the following:
- Cause an emergency official to act (think police officer, dispatch, or firefighter);
- Place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury (like if you yell “shooter” in a crowded place), “imminent” just means happening now or it’s coming soon; OR
- Prevent or interrupt something going on in a public building, aircraft, etc.
This offense is a Class A misdemeanor unless it’s at a school or some other areas – then that’s a State Jail felony.
How is a terroristic threat different?
You can be charged with this crime if you threaten to commit any other crime involving violence so that you:
- Cause a reaction of any type by an emergency official or volunteer;
- Place someone in fear of imminent bodily injury (a spouse says “if you leave me I will kill you”); OR
- Place a group of people in fear of imminent bodily injury;
(There are also a few other categories)
A terroristic threat can be charged as a Class B misdemeanor all the way up to a third-degree felony, depending on who you threatened and where it was.
Still think you’re cute?
I think not.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, both of these things happened in the same weekend:
(1) someone yelled “fire” in an East El Paso movie theater, causing it to shut down temporarily; AND
(2) a “celebrity” caused police to respond to a “shots fired” call at Cielo Vista Mall.
Read about it here: