The following is a column by Mark Shiver, host of the “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast.
Napier Fuller, a Wilmington, NC architect, was arrested in February at gunpoint and handcuffed during a business meeting with some of his clients. Five deputies from the New Hanover Sheriff’s Department apprehended this citizen who had committed the horrific crime of sending “annoying” emails. Notwithstanding his right to freedom of speech guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, Fuller was taken to jail, photographed and had his mug shot released to the public.
Fuller was issued a cease and desist order, which was put in place because of the “annoying emails,” and led to an arrest warrant from Orange County with the charge of cyberstalking. Rather than hit the delete key on their computer, faculty members and students at UNC-Chapel Hill whom Fuller was emailing decided that the full weight of law enforcement needed to be brought down on this fellow citizen of their state. How dare he send emails questioning the legitimacy of transgenderism!
Most people are quite adept at deleting unwanted email, likely doing so multiple times a day. Even if the emails are considered “annoying” they automatically hit the delete key and keep moving. But Fuller had stepped across a line in questioning transgenderism and apparently not only had to be stopped, but be punished also at the hands of the criminal justice system.
The cyberstalking statute reads in part that it shall be a violation to repeatedly communicate messages by email that are considered harassing or annoying and other things such as abusing, threatening or terrifying.
A guest on the Thursday, April 6 “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast, Fuller said he had sent emails previously to some members of the NC General Assembly, and decided to recycle them. The recipients for the most part came from a 17-page list of professors and others from UNC-Chapel Hill who have signed a petition to the General Assembly favoring the repeal of HB2.
Fuller also said that essentially the emails, “Expressed the Roman Catholic Church’s views on transgender ideology, which is not favorable, as one can imagine.”
Fuller said that those he sent the emails to were state employees and had already been publicly involved in the HB 2 debate. “These were not private citizens that I’m going around grabbing off the street,” Fuller said. “These were public players in this debate. Obviously if someone has a position as a professor at UNC, and they are petitioning the [NC General Assembly] based upon that title, it changes the character of that conversation. It adds a lot of gravitas, some would say.”
Fuller says he is confident that the court case in which he is charged with cyberstalking in will be ruled in his favor. Oral arguments are to be heard April 24 in the Orange County District Court before Judge Jay Bryan. But, he also does not dismiss the idea that it could go through a series of appeals, based on the uniqueness of the case. Is emailing a public figure repeatedly, to the point where they claim they feel harassed or annoyed, an activity that is covered by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech?
Interestingly, the last line of NC Statute 14-196.3. the NC cyberstalking statute states, Section (e) “This section does not apply to any peaceable, nonviolent, or nonthreatening activity intended to express political views or to provide lawful information to others. This section shall not be construed to impair any constitutionally protected activity, including speech, protest, or assembly.”
Fuller’s case may fall into this category. If not, there is always the delete key.
To listen to the entire interview with Napier Fuller click here.