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Clearwater man threatened to kill Gov. DeSantis, Florida senators and Trump supporters, police says

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Posted at 5:27 PM, Nov 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-04 23:24:04-05

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A Clearwater man was arrested after police said he threatened to kill Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida senators and several others on Wednesday.

Officials said around 3:17 a.m. Wednesday, the Florida Fusion Center received information regarding a man, Richard Szala, leaving comments on YouTube videos threatening to kill Trump supporters, his neighbor and several others.

"He did admit to making the comments which he indicated he didn't mean and he was not going to carry out. He's basically just talking," said Lt. Michael Walek with the Clearwater Police Department.

Szala also threatening to kill Senators McConnell, Graham, Paul, Rubio and Scott and Representatives Jordan and Gaetz, and Governor DeSantis, officials said.

A search of the IP address led to his address in Clearwater.

"Anytime somebody threatens to shoot somebody and kill somebody because he's upset with them, it's inappropriate and not going to be tolerated," said Walek.

Detectives coordinated with FDLE, FBI and Secret Service before going to Szala's house.

They interviewed him and got a confession along with his firearm, computer and phone.

"He admitted to us that he shouldn't have done what he did, it was wrong. He was cooperative," said Walek.

Dr. Bryanna Fox is a former FBI agent and an Associate Professor with the Department of Criminology at the University of South Florida. She said law enforcement does not have to prove intent with written threats.

"Anything that's put out there on social media from the law enforcement perspective is taken as truth that is what you're intending to do. The burden isn't on law enforcement to prove whether you were kidding or serious," said Dr. Fox.

Szala was arrested and charged with false report concerning the use of a firearm in a violent manner.

"We take all written threats seriously. It doesn't matter if it's a political rant, a school, a neighbor, a friend...anytime you threaten somebody, we can establish probable cause you're going to jail," said Walek. "We don't know if you're joking. We don't know what your actions are going to be."