TAMPA, FL (AP) — It started on Facebook, as many political arguments do these days.
A Florida man responded to a friend’s post about President Donald Trump. His response wasn’t about Trump, it was about felon voting rights. And that’s when the squabble between the two fortysomething men exploded into a flurry of private messages and took an ugly turn.
The argument escalated into threats and taunts of fighting, police said, and ended in a shooting that left one of the men wounded.
The victim has been released from the hospital, but it underscores how passionate social media interactions can have real-world consequences.
Tampa Police say 44-year-old Brian Sebring faces felony charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed gun. Sebring told the Tampa Bay Times he “just snapped and let primal rage take over” when he left work early on Monday, went home to get his gun and headed to the home of 46-year-old Alex Stephens.
According to Sebring, a registered Democrat, he responded to post on Facebook by a felon who said he wanted to share his political opinions even though he’d lost his right to vote.
In Florida, as many as 1.5 million former prisoners aren’t allowed to vote due to a ban in the state constitution. But the state’s voters will decide in November whether to alter the current ban, which is also the subject on an ongoing federal lawsuit.
If 60 percent of voters approve the constitutional amendment, most convicted felons no longer in prison would have their rights automatically restored. Many Democratic politicians are in favor of revising the state’s ban, while top Republicans such as Gov. Rick Scott have defended the current system, saying ex-prisoners should have to wait and prove they deserve to have their rights restored.
Sebring told the newspaper that he wrote on the Facebook threat that if someone wants to voice an opinion, “don’t do criminal activity, don’t get caught, be a productive member of society.”
It quickly escalated when Stephens, who has a felony records and served stints in prison for robbery and cocaine possession, took the argument to Sebring’s Messenger account. Sebring says they both threatened each other, and Stephens threatened to harm his wife and son.
Stephens sent Sebring his address and told him to “come on over” if he wanted to fight, and to beep the horn when he showed up, Sebring said.
Sebring and Stephens had never met, though they live in the same neighborhood.
He said he parked outside Stephens’ house and honked the horn. Stephens came out carrying what Sebring said looked like a knife. Sebring fired. Then he drove home. He was almost there when he saw a police officer and told him what he’d just done.
Stephens was released from the hospital, where he was treated for gunshot wounds to the thigh and buttocks. He didn’t respond to the Times’ request for an interview.
“I’m not a bad guy,” Sebring told the newspaper, “but I mean, this guy threatened to hurt my family, and I went off the deep end.” Sebring said he’s probably going to see a therapist now because it scares him that “I could lose my temper like that and do something so stupid.”
Sebring was arrested and has been released on a $9,500 bond.
Now in addition to legal troubles, Sebring said he’s the target of social media trolling.
“I ruined my life over this,” Sebring said. “Now my mother is too afraid to leave the house, my sons are afraid to walk to school or church, all because of some keyboard gangsters.”