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FBI arrests homeless man for Facebook threats to kill Kent cop
Federal prosecutors have charged a 52-year-old homeless man with interstate threats for allegedly making threats on his Facebook page to kill a Kent Police officer and his family.
The FBI arrested Mark Brian Verhul on Tuesday after reviewing Facebook postings from Nov. 1-4 that included a photo of the officer with the message, "This is the cop I am going to kill," according to charging papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said the FBI tracked down the threats by Verhul.
"I think it's our federal criminal intelligence work executed perfectly," Thomas said during a phone interview. "They look at criminal activity to keep the community safe. We consider it very serious threats against one of our officers. With the intelligence work, it saved a tragedy from occurring. We took the threat very seriously and the federal government took the threat very seriously."
Thomas said it came as welcome news that the FBI had responded so quickly to the threat against an officer's life.
"I appreciate the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and other law enforcement for their response to a potential danger and acting quickly to have him in custody the same day before a potential tragedy ocurred," Thomas said. "I'm extremely pleased with the cooperation and coordination."
Verhul reportedly became angry after the officer approached him Nov. 1 at Town Square Plaza, across from the Kent Library and Kent Station. The officer arrested Verhul for two offenses (the violations were not listed in the charging papers). Police transported Verhul to the city jail but released him rather than booking him. Verhul had a laptop computer with him.
Later that same night, two other Kent Police officers contacted Verhul after a fight at a homeless shelter reportedly caused by Verhul. Verhul still had his laptop and told one of the officers he wanted to kill officer (name redacted).
An FBI agent investigated the case as part of an assignment in Seattle to a task force relating to incidents of domestic and international terrorism. Thomas said the FBI monitored the Million Mask March on Nov. 5 in Olympia, where demonstrations wore masks during a government protest, and that eventually led them to Verhul's Facebook page. On that page, Verhul refers to himself an anarchist.
The case is considered an interstate crime because Facebook data centers are based in states outside of Washington.
The agent reviewed a Facebook page under the name of Mark Verheul, a different spelling of Verhul's last name but believed to be the same man because of references on the page to his Nov. 1 contact with Kent Police in the park as well as a Facebook address that includes the name Verhul and photographs of Verhul that match his driver's license photo.
Other Facebook postings by Verhul reportedly included:
• "I want to kill this cops entire family and let him live to suffer from the memory of why I killed them."
• A photo of the Kent officer alongside two photographs of a dead body in a police vehicle with the message, "This is what is going to happen to the next Kent WA cop who (expletive) with me."
• "This pig needs to be taken out."
The agent concluded that the investigation showed Verhul knowingly and willfully did transmit in interstate and foreign commerce from the state of Washington to another state a public Facebook posting that contained a threat to kidnap and injure the officer.
Verhul is in custody at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center. He had an initial court appearance on Wednesday to face the charge and has a detention hearing on Nov. 14.
Agents confiscated a laptop in Verhul's possession as they arrested him.
Verhul on his Facebook page wrote about the Town Square Plaza incident with the Kent Police. He said he was resting on a park bench near the restrooms when the officer approached him. He said the officer arrested him for illegal camping and banned him from city parks for 45 days. He added that police took him to the city jail but released him without booking him.
Verhul said apparently the jail wouldn't take him because of the minor offense.
The charging papers stated that Verhul and the Kent officer also had prior contacts before the Nov. 1 Town Square Plaza incident.
Thomas said the department has emphasized that officers treat everyone, including the homeless, with respect to ensure everyone's rights are respected.
"But we act responsible and there still is a threat to kill," Thomas said. "That's a real problem that won't be tolerated."