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Prominent Legal Blogger Calls U.S. Attorney's Statement on Twin Falls Assault Controversy 'Threat' to Free Speech

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Eugene Volokh - PUBLIC DOMAIN
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As national media attention continues to focus on the controversy surrounding the assault of a Twin Falls child, a prominent legal blogger is calling a rare statement from the office of U.S. Prosecutor Wendy Olson—who called for calm amid a flurry of inaccurate reports concerning the incident—a threat to free speech.

"It looks like an attempt to chill constitutionally protected speech through the threat of federal prosecution," wrote Eugene Volokh for The Washington Post.

Volokh is an instructor in First Amendment law at UCLA and author of legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy, one of the most widely read and influential sources of legal news in the country. It's currently engaged in a joint venture with The Post.

In early June, Twin Falls police learned of an assault committed against a young girl by three boys, ages 7, 10 and 14. Early reports about the incident that circulated on the internet included inaccurate information about the assailants and the crime—including that the boys were Syrian refugees, the assault was committed at knifepoint and police officers took hours to arrive on the scene.

Police later released more information about the case. The boys were Sudanese and Iraqi, and their refugee status has not been released. Nor was a knife used, but the glut of inaccurate information and public outcry over the incident prompted Twin Falls police and prosecutors to publicly address the issue.

Olson's office entered the fray June 24 when it released its own statement supporting Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs and Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury. The statement also included a warning that triggered Volokh's criticism.

"The spread of false information or inflammatory or threatening statements about the perpetrators or the crime itself reduces public safety and may violate federal law," according to the statement.